Recorded live at Midlands Arts Centre, Birmingham in December 17, “No Boundaries” is the final part in a trilogy of differentiated projects conceived by drummer / percussionist Andrew Bain. First came 2015’s “Player Piano” concert in tribute to the late John Taylor, followed by 2017’s wonderful release of original material “Embodied Hope”. This third album couldn’t offer a bigger contrast, being one continuous sequence of free improvisation.
The musicians involved on this performance, like Bain himself, are of the highest standard. Joining the drummer are Peter Evans on trumpet and flugelhorn, John O’Gallagher on alto saxophone, and Alex Bonney on electronics. Let’s be clear, this is a very challenging album. If you’re not into your free jazz improv you’re not going to get anything from this. As Bain explains: “I’m challenging the idiomatic instrumental make-up of the jazz ensemble where conventional boundaries and comparisons are usually already set”.
So here’s the thing. I fully understand that music without boundaries can be liberating. Perhaps more so for the performers than the audience. Creating something completely instantaneous can be inspiring, and the results can be startling, but equally, it just might not work. And it’s all a very personal thing anyway, dependant upon mood, circumstance and a whole host of factors that can affect any listening experience. And so all I can do on hearing this recording is to share my own thoughts and observations.
First off, regardless of the musical content, the album is just under 33 minutes long. It might be available on 12” “violet-splattered” 180 gram vinyl, but does that really give value for money? Depends on whether you think the music is worth the purchase I guess. Then there’s the concept of “no boundaries”. Let’s use an analogy here. If a trio of world-class chefs were brought together for a one-off cookery improv session, and we all knew that they were three of the world’s best chefs, if the results of their cooking together tasted rubbish, would that make them bad chefs? No, of course it wouldn’t. What I’m trying to say is that you can have all the best ingredients but that doesn’t necessarily mean a masterpiece will be created.
There are, on this live performance, moments of intrigue, of passion, and of undoubted musical playfulness mixed equally with a sober sincerity. The music is way beyond perceived jazz territory, out into the galaxy and far, far away. For some, it may resonate like no other music they have ever heard, but for me, despite my best efforts, I find it difficult to take much from this at all. Maybe the audience at the gig itself felt differently, given the atmosphere and excitement of experiencing an innovative musical moment in time, but as a recording, for me it’s just a bit of a struggle.