Without out a shadow of a doubt, this is revolutionary new fire music. Saxophonist Michael Foster’s trio The Ghost have repurposed the battle cry of seminal free jazz and its links with the civil rights movement with a lesser represented new politic which aims a sure and unwavering fist right into the disgusting stomach of homophobia and anti-LGBT sentiment. This is dissent in dissonance. The album opens with a disturbing and revolting newscast from CBS presenter Mike Wallace, broadcast in 1967, who gravely intones “A majority of Americans favour legal punishment, even for homosexual acts performed in private between consenting adults.” The Hole’s premise could not be any clearer. As if in reaction, the opening piece ‘Certain Scars Appear’ is a sustained practice of dread. Mechanical objects and prepared saxophones whirl around heaved, sexualised sighs and extended techniques from both the percussion and double bass, which creak in a quiet but detectable malice. In places, it almost sounds industrial due to the mechanised hum of tape machines. It is in these more textural experiments where The Ghost work really hits like a sledgehammer. By contextualising their music with some pretty horrendous samples of anti-LGBT rhetoric, including a rabid preacher frothing about ‘demonic sodomites’, these deeper passages are charged with an air of malevolence so thick you can literally feel breathing on your neck. Every bass bow, every multiphonic squeal, every drum thud, every clangour of cymbal becomes fraught with a tension so thick you couldn’t carve with a buzzsaw. It immediately elevates this music beyond the practice of so much textural improvisation and into something I personally haven’t heard in a long time….Improvisation
that has a clear and distinct message, which is telling a story (a very disturbing one at that) and that commands your attention whether you are willing or not. The Ghost also excel at going straight for the jugular, a fact I’m of course hugely fucking into. ’Apply Pleasure’ sputters venom with hefty spasmodic drumming, snarling bowed bass and Michael Foster’s banshee like wailing through the upper registers of the saxophone, sounding like Ayler being dipped in acid. ‘No More Hangers’ is another brutal workout, nearly sounding grindcore-ish in its ferocity. The closing track ‘In Such Mad Worships There Is Peril’ shows that this trio can really stretch out their intensity. Connor Baker’s work behind the kit in these sections is incredible, shunning the tired, flimsy delicateness of many free improv drummers and actually whacks the fuck out of the kit in staccato bursts of power, thundering around the toms and snare. Henry Fraser anchors it all with hugely deep playing that rumbles even when he isn’t striking the hell out of his double bass. All three of them howling with real passion in justifiable anger. Inspired primarily from Jean Genet's writings and, in particular, his film ‘Un Chant D'Amour’, which is directly referenced in Lewis McLean’s stunning artwork, The Hole arrives in the wake of a none to creeping fascism in the USA. It’s a direct attack to those who cannot accept, due to their own fucked up prejudices, anyone who is remotely different. Tombed Visions is immensely proud to stand firmly shoulder to shoulder with The Ghost with a fist raised in solidarity. This is the new Queer improv and it is unreal how fucking good it is.
"As Tombed Visions put it, "This is the new Queer improv and it is unreal how fucking good it is." Led by fiery saxophonist/electronics ace Michael Foster, this second cassette by Brooklyn-based improv trio The Ghost is intensely striking. Framed as a reaction to homophobia and the perennial evil of prejudice, The Hole opens with an audio snippet of an American news presenter in 1967 declaring "A majority of Americans favour legal punishment, even for homosexual acts performed in private between consenting adults." The ensuing electroacoustic clatter assembled by Foster with double bassist Henry Fraser and percussionist Connor Baker veers between sorrow, anger, and provocation. The trio just as often deploy hissy tapes and samples as they do bass bows and sax parps. ‘Certain Scars Appear’ sees murky sex sighs and electronic drones hum along fearfully until the trio pick up their instruments to add hushed creaky vibrations. The sense of dread and fear following the despicable news broadcast turns into something far more aggressive on ‘Apply Pleasure’, with Baker going postal on his kit and Foster blows his sax furiously, channelling Albert Ayler at the summit of Spiritual Unity. ‘Apply Pleasure’ also has BDSM sounds either side of it, one man yelling at another between spanks and cries of pain, "Don’t you fucking come!" Some enormously deep bowing from Fraser chucks the entire trio into a dungeon on ‘Under The Teeth Of Dogs Or Upon The Wheel’, somewhat resembling drone doom’s bleakest moments more than anything related to jazz. The entire comes to a head on the cresting intensity of 12 minute finale, ‘In Such Mad Worships There Is Peril’. After a bass intro sounding like a worn bike wheel in need of some serious oiling, drums begin to pound and the group work their way to the most intensely angry moment on the record. Tying such solid meanings and intentions to free jazz recordings can often seem like little more than an afterthought strapped on to some improvisations, but The Hole really seems like a cohesive and powerful statement (that statement being "fuck fascists and homophobes"). If there’s one emotion free jazz was practically purpose built to portray, it’s sheer anger."
- Tristan Bath, The Quietus
"The Hole is the second recording of Michael Foster’s trio, The Ghost, with bassist Henry Fraser and drummer Connor Baker. If you listened to their previous recording, There’s Always A First Time For Everything, the playing on this project is much tighter. All three musicians mesh well together, making this an almost perfect trio. They seem to be having fun while they’re playing, making ample use of alternative means of expressing free jazz concepts.
The Hole begins with a series of tracks preceded by spoken words. That’s the pattern throughout this performance. Track 1, Intro, is a short radio broadcast discussing homosexuality. The band comes in, doing what they do – experimental music. An eerie sustained sound lingers throughout the background introducing “Certain Scars Appear.” Gradually, it mutates into a recognizable form, with the sounds of the instruments emerging accompanied by the subtle use of electronics. The emphasis is on noise. Vocals introduce “Apply Pleasure,” leading directly into a series of short explosive bursts of sporadic free jazz, coming at the audience in bits and pieces. This is interspersed with male vocals and the sound of slaps.
“Under The Teeth of Dogs, Or Upon the Wheel,” pushes in another direction. Henry Fraser adeptly does some creative soft bowing on the bass. Michael is mostly blowing into the horn but not really producing the full sound of his instrument. Gradually, Henry increases the volume which shapes the clay of this composition. He changes from smooth bowing to using a more jagged edge. Connor is already in the fray supporting the ongoing melee. Michael is playing although I wonder if he is using electronics on this track as well. The sonic experience of this track gets more interesting as the composition progresses. It’s staying in a particular place while Michael brings more fire on his horn. Connor is jumping in and out with short percussive bursts of energy. Michael is somewhat laid back during this improvisation, not to say backing offi, but he’s supporting what’s happening in the moment, returning to blowing the horn but not making the traditional horn sounds.
“No More Hangers,” starts with short vocals and then the band comes in strong, hitting the stage hard. This is clearly a unified effort by all three musicians. There’s no holding back as Michael is seemingly unleashing all of his inner demons. This piece maintains the energy until Connor’s well timed cymbal hit, ends the insanity. “Rub the Injured Limb,” Michael continues to work with airy sounds. Henry and Connor are right there with him, supporting this ingenious mayhem. The speaker on this track sounds like a minister preaching.
“In Such Mad Worships There is Peril,” continues from a previous track during this session. Henry can be heard rapidly bowing, starting with great intensity, but then introducing variation, thus, creating a fire of his own. Michael joins this unusual mixture, playing lightly on top like a boat floating on water, bearing his most melodic sounds on the record. Connor adds a primal feeling to the mix, having tuned his drums low, and has a style that is reminiscent of Milford Graves. While Connor continues this open ended drumming, Michael is right there with him. For a moment, there are spoken words thrown in the melting pot. At the nine minute mark, the magic of the music happens. The trio moves into a medium swing groove. Michael moves into the high register of his horn, making it his home, before coming back down to earth eventually to continue his musical explorations at a lower altitude. This continues for a while until Michael’s sudden, atonal harmonic attacks bring this album to an end.
Do follow Michael Foster’s The Ghost. They are a trio that is going to be doing interesting things in the days ahead. If you liked Michael Foster’s previous recording(s), you will most surely enjoy this one. Get The Hole, from Bandcamp now."
- Marc Edwards, Jazz Right Now
"Should experimental music be political? US saxophonist Michael Foster certainly thinks so. With The Hole, the recent tape on Manchester’s Tombed Visions label from his trio The Ghost, Foster bends the abrasive dissonance of free improvisation into a furious indictment of homophobia and an impassioned call for LGBT rights. That such explicit statements of political intent are rare these days – even the communitarianism woven into the grain of those early free improv pioneers seems to have been rubbed away in favour of an apolitical focus on process, technique and entrepreneurialism – only makes Foster’s blast of indignation and rage more powerful. As Tombed Visions boss David McLean states in an upcoming interview for this blog, The Hole is contemporary fire music:
“A lot of free jazz and free improvised music being made now has lost the rage the music was born from, the 60s, Civil Rights, the Cold War, it was a battle cry, people who had been absolutely maligned, and maligned in what they could do creatively, pushing back … [The Hole is] the music brought back to its original intended use.”
Indeed, but even if The Hole only showcased The Ghost’s tremendous technique and improvisatory chops it would be a cracker. Listen to the brooding immensity of Under the Teeth of Dogs or Upon The Wheel, in which Henry Fraser’s double bass and Connor Baker’s drumming create a scarred, blackened canvas from which Foster’s anguished horn rises like the death cry of some wounded beast. But its political focus gives The Hole a depth and complexity that most other contemporary records in this field lack. In particular, Foster’s use of samples, from TV news and documentaries, holds a broken mirror up to the straight world and shows in bare detail the homophobia and prejudice on which it is built. More importantly, there is also a demand for acceptance from this world, a call to reconfigure its boundaries to enable people to be able to live in the ways they want and need to, a polemical drive that is integral to Foster’s own aesthetic as a musician. Thus, as Foster’s biog states, his approach “utilizes extensive preparations of his saxophone, augmenting it with amplification, objects, balloons, drum heads, vibrators, tapes, and samples as a method of subverting and queering the instrument’s history and traditional roles.” The squeal and screech of The Hole’s improvisations places that queerness front and centre, exuding a sense of transgression and erotics even during its most indignant passages. Sexuality, politics and music come together in pieces like No More Hangers (itself an allusion to Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest) as The Hole reconfigures that ‘Gay American Dream’ of abandoning provincial bigotry for tolerant, inclusive cities (replayed in the UK through migratory narratives like The Pet Shop Boys’ Being Boring or Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy) with the urge to stand up to heteronormative oppression wherever it occurs, to fight for that utopia, to make it real, on this street, in this town, right here, right now."
- Paul Margree, We Need No Swords