Album Reviews

Mark Hanslip and Javier Carmona – DosadoS

(Babel) UK release date: 5 September 2011

A co-founder of London’s Loop Collective of adventurous, free-thinking jazz musicians, saxophonist Mark Hanslip has, with this selection of duets with percussionist Javier Carmona, branched yet further out into the wider world of improvised music. Hanslip already has an impressive musical CV. He trained at Birmingham Conservatoire and was an early member of Hans Koller’s group. He was an original member of the consistently outstanding Outhouse but has since moved on to explore fertile new ground with the equally excellent Twelves.

Albums such as this often suffer the unfortunate fate of being derided as side projects – either mere ‘experiments’ (the significance of which for both the musicians’ development and their audience’s expectations ought to be more widely understood) or, even worse, presented as indulgences. The reality on DosadoS is fortunately very clear. This recording captures two musicians in an empathetic and expressive conversation, both delivering intuitive and powerful improvised statements.

Hanslip is an improviser of tremendous feeling and an adventurous risk-taker – this is a free, spontaneous performance, but one where thoughtful melodies and shapes emerge with striking clarity. He is remarkably adept at varying the length of his phrases, making for unpredictable and fascinating lines. In Javier Carmona, he has found a complementary collaborator – someone who is clearly interested in playing music rather than simply playing drums. The variety of texture and timbre, as well as the satisfyingly melodic impetus in his playing, provide a shape and form to these pieces that might otherwise have been offered by a chordal instrument. Part of this is achieved by using a range of instruments and sounds. Carmona deploys various bells and also plays the shells and hoops of his drums. He also uses a range of tools too – from soft mallets to regular sticks. Added to this is his tremendous musicality – a conversational approach and an impressive dynamic range.

Whilst the music here is a result of a largely unplanned and spontaneous session (the duo do perform a take on Steve Lacy’s Deadline, but it is the only example of pre-composition to be found here), it has clearly been recorded and sequenced with considerable care. The result is a coherent set, characterised not just by its obvious intensity, but also in its space and reflection. The pieces develop their own form and internal logic through the informed playing of both musicians.

There is no conflict between the role of the individual and the wider role of the duo here. Preambolo to Nipple 2 builds in intensity naturally and without force – it seems to be achieved through listening and through interaction rather than through leadership per se. Nevertheless, there is still plenty of scope for very strong individual contributions, not least in some very personal and distinctive manipulations of the sounds of the saxophones and the drums. On Boules, Hanslip fruitfully explores intonation and expression to find a sound somewhat removed from the jazz tradition. Frequently, he sounds inspired by Middle Eastern or Indian music.

The spontaneous enviornment seems to produce some serendipitous results. There’s a wonderful moment in Mucha Mierda where Hanslip’s fiery improvising gradually decays into silence, leaving Carmona to play a remarkably fluid and eloquent solo. There’s a similar moment on ffs where Hanslip is left unaccompanied, delivering long, sustained, gritty notes. If little about DosadoS is conventional, it’s also refreshingly free of improvised music cliche. If some mistakenly dismiss improvised music as po-faced, then Hanslip and Carmona counter that by showing a playful sense of humour here, not least by including three ‘Nipple’ tracks, and calling the final one Third Nipple, With Coda.

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Mark Hanslip and Javier Carmona – DosadoS