Having being invited to headline the Tombed Visions stage at Fat Out Fest 2014 and completely decimating the room along with every set of ears within stretch of the venue, the original trio of saxophonist Colin Webster and long-term sparring partners David Birchall and Andrew Cheetham have continued to pursue an unholy alliance now augmented by Otto Willberg on double bass.
Night Streets Of Madness is the culmination of a daylong recording session in the lofty attic space of Islington Mill, the deep resonance of the room perfectly captured by engineer Sam Weaver which adds a definable depth to each of the cuts on the record. The longest track is the Side A long ‘Scene In A Tent Outside The Cotton Fields Of Bakersfield’, a 23 minute excursion into the remarkable range the quartet are able to pull from each other’s repertoire of techniques and imaginative improvisation skills. A collection of screeing saxophones, murmuring bass and acidic guitar lines rise to near cacophony atop rolling tom work that thuds out some idea of rhythm that finally burst into a rampage of collective shouting. Half mimicry, half forceful injection of each player’s distinct personality, the riotous nature of this out-rock-out is immediately infectious. Far from content in dealing just one deadly hand out of the quartet’s skillset, the group's clamour is abruptly cut in a near evacuating implosion, turning inward with space and silence pushing against the sparse creaks of double bass, puckered saxophone breaths and plucked drum and guitar strings. The quartet reconvene to rise out of this sparseness in startling sonority, swelling into a droning weave of high tones and bowed and breathed lowend, displaying a unity that in relevance to the previous ideas explored, sounds all the more powerful.
One of the quartet’s biggest strengths is their willingness to carve out room for solo set pieces. There are pronounced pockets of abstraction on the album that act as scenes for each of the quartet to voice their own peculiar and imaginative accent on their chosen instrument. Willberg’s double bass is a presence more felt than detected and rather than opting for traditional walking lines of notes, he makes his strings mumur and click. Webster can operate as well in atmospheric subtones as his can ear-shattering multiphonics and the considerable heft of his Baritone sax is a constant threatening force throughout the tape. Birchall’s anti-guitar solo on B2 allows the listener to really focus on the guttural and broken blues tones he emits, seeming to treat his strings as percussion tools rather than melodic components. Andrew Cheetham's solo on Side A, a brilliant flurry of thwacking tom work and considered snare/hi-hat polrythms is perhaps the most memorable on the album. Not just for it’s inventiveness but for precisely what comes after it finishes. Out of some unknown and hidden cue, the full quartet erupts in a maddening blaze of fire that sucker punches the listener with its distinct ferocity. Out of this chaos comes a booze-swilling, falling backwards down the stairs Beefheart funk riff that jerks in and out of cohesion and acts as the most neck snapping and satisfying moment of the entire record.
Taking both the album and track titles from the poetry of Charles Bukowski adds a real new relevance to the group's working; Night Streets of Madness displays as many moments of refined finesse as it does downright physical imposition that speaks straight from the quartet’s collective gut; and what better a summation of the writing of Ol’ Hank.
"Like Bleed, Night Streets of Madness also has an immensity about it, albeit a slightly different flavour thereof. Created at Salford’s Islington Mill by a manic quartet of guitarist David Birchall, drummer Andrew Cheetham and bassist Otto Wilberg, with Webster on tenor and baritone saxes, it marries skin-flaying abrasiveness with eyeball-melting intensity. The result is a sprawling, multitudinous beast with the bloody-minded attitude of a bag of hammers on shore leave.
Webster makes his presence felt early, with feverish, high-pitched whistles at the start of Scene In A Tent Outside The Cotton Fields Of Bakersfield that soon drop down into full-throated blasts, as the other three create a joyful noise overture. It’s great stuff, although my fave bit is right at the end, when Cheetham knocks out an almost robo-funk groove, prompting Birchall to force all sorts of weird droid sounds out of his axe and Webster spews out layer on layer of reedy torrents.
The other side is even better, all four players getting down and getting involved in the good-natured sparring. There’s a lovely blowout section near the end of Ask A Clown Or The First Face You See That Day, where Webster’s sax and Wilberg’s bass engage in a low end scrap, growling at each other like two pit bulls, before the sax rises up to a pained avian screech, leaving the bass grumbling and growling below, while the other two try and calm things down by spraying them with all sorts of sticky, percussive noise."
- Paul Margree, We Need No Swords
"Recorded at the Islington Mill in Salford, this tape on Tombed Visions captures four of the best improvisers in the UK at what sounds like a revelatory moment. Drummer Andrew Cheetham, guitarist David Birchall, and double bassist Otto Willberg all play or have played in explosive free rock band (and basically greatest fucking guitar band in the world right now) Desmadrados Soldados De Ventura, while saxophonist Webster has been carving out his place as leading voice in UK free jazz. The opening sidelong track here, ‘Scene In A Tent Outside The Cotton Fields Of Bakersfield’ is something of a 23 minute masterpiece. It is almost symphonic in its musical scope opening with a four minute blitzkrieg of Webster and Birchall furiously wailing harsh shades of blood red. This suddenly drops to an uncertain game of weirdo oneupmanship, Cheetham bowing his cymbals, Willberg scraping away at his bass, Webster parping and scribbling melodic sketches with his sax, and Birchall slowly mutating from randomised string fiddling to shimmering drones that dramatically ushers in a stunning drum solo over a quarter of an hour in. The dynamics of the room captured by engineer Sam Weaver are absolute perfection (to the extent it even comes across on nasty lo-fi cassette tape), and Cheetham's gentle drum solo is given beautiful space to breathe by both Weaver and his bandmates. The first side ends with a relatively heavy rocking climax, anchored by the brilliantly propulsive bass playing of Willberg. Even in the realm of free improvisation, music rarely sounded this brutally physical. Each of these four virtuoso instrumentalists is given the space to produce some of their best individual improvisations and solos to date, but Night Streets Of Madness works best when they play as one single instinctive entity, somehow twisting punishing impulsiveness into densely textured long form (spontaneous) compositions."
- Tristan Bath, The Quietus
released September 28, 2015
David Birchall - Guitar
Andrew Cheetham - Drums
Colin Webster - Tenor & Baritone Saxophones
Otto Willberg - Double Bass
Recorded and mixed by Sam Weaver at Islington Mill, Salford
Mastered by Fear Falls Burning
Titles taken from works by Charles Bukowski
Thanks to David McLean
Tombed Visions is a Manchester based cassette label specialising in sound art, ambient music, experimental electronics and
improvisation and aims to showcase the fringes of contemporary independent music. All releases are limited edition and packaged with care, combining a love of graphic design, photography, typography with the wondrous sounds released....more