Album Reviews

Twelves – The Adding Machine

(Babel) UK release date: 7 March 2011

Following a subtle name change as a result of their growing line-up (the group formerly known as Twelves Trio), Twelves have returned with a more expansive but no less nuanced ensemble sound for this second album. Drummer Tim Giles named the album in reference to an Elmer Rice play about an accountant seeking revenge after being replaced by an adding machine. The music here contains a degree of mischievous interplay that makes that title seem apt. It is also a music of contrast and subtlety. The group’s freedom and flexibility comes partnered with real discipline and control.

Bassist Rian Vosloo, saxophonist Mark Hanslip and drummer Tim Giles (also a member of the outstanding Golden Age Of Steam all return for this album. The most transparent change in the group’s sound comes from new guitarist Rob Updegraff. He adds a determined, gritty, incisive undertow to the group’s improvisation, sometimes reminiscent of John Zorn, but also perhaps of Bill Frisell in his more left field moments (the Richter 858 album especially). Sometimes his accompaniment is full and fluid, at others it is spiky and conversational (especially on Kerfuffle). His solos have an elasticity perfectly suited to the overall ensemble approach.

The recordings here strike an inspired balance between knotty compositions, patient melodic development and dynamic, turbulent free improvisation. It is testament to the group’s considerable skill that the result is not an uncomfortable mish-mash, but rather a series of coherent, powerful statements with a strong sense of narrative.

The two part Many Splendoured Thing demonstrates the group’s approach brilliantly. Tim Giles’ remarkable, frenetic drumming serves both a textural and melodic function, free from the constraints of time keeping. The first part works as something of a feature for Updegraff, whose free spirited playing, incorporating both rock and jazz influences, immediately breaks down boundaries. The second part, which features Mark Hanslip on tenor saxophone, is calmer and more spacious. Together, the pieces represent two sides of the same coin.

These contrasts are explored in great depth throughout the album. Shallow Brown, Rian Vosloo’s arrangement of a folk tune, is successful largely through the group’s masterful use of space, silence and dynamics. The piece seems to gradually and gracefully expand over its eleven minute duration. Spiders veers playfully between a languid, subtly melodic theme played by Hanslip and some passages of gentle, more abstract improvisation. Hanslip’s Party Girls seems more rhythmically propulsive.

Whilst The Adding Machine certainly has moments of great tension, it proves that mediative compositions and free improvisation needn’t be mutually exclusive. It also dispels unfair stereotypes of improvised music as necessarily dense and overwhelming. This is intelligent, supple, fascinating music.

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Twelves – The Adding Machine