Between The Notes [Group Composition]
Oakey/Burden [Human League] arr. Trainer
Viktoria Mullova (violin)
Between The Notes:
Matthew Barley (cello)
Paul Griffiths (guitar)
Fraser Trainer (keyboards)
Sam Walton (percussion)
Peter Whyman (clarinet and saxophone)
Knots and Love Action recorded 7-8 February 2005; Tangerine Dance, ID and Lucky recorded 2-4 October 2004 The Music Room, Champs Hill, Pulborough, Sussex
Reviewed by: Rob Witts
Reviewed: August 2005
CD No: BLACK BOX BBM1095
Duration: 70 minutes
Fraser Trainer’s activities as a composer were in danger of being overshadowed by his day job, directing the pioneering education work of the London Sinfonietta; this disc, along with the recent premiere of his Violin Concerto (for the living) at the Proms, should help to redress the balance. Trainer is a performer too, and appears here in his capacity as keyboard player for Matthew Barley’s “Between The Notes” ensemble.
Viktoria Mullova (who is married to Barley) lends her considerable presence to Knots, the most recent work on the programme, from 2003. Based on R D Laing’s psychological treatise of the same title, the work is “closely related to the various knots, tangles, impasses and disjunctions in which Laing’s words entwine us”. What this means in practice is the projection of low-level anxiety through spiky, disjointed rhythms borrowed from the ‘Bang on a Can’ school of caffeinated post-minimalism. The best movement of three is the second, which slyly spins a sort of slow-motion tango before stepping up the pace; it is the least dependent on the device of building up riffs.
Exploring the freedoms of a post-minimalist, post-modern moment, “Between The Notes” sail in an ocean into which generic traditions pour as mere tributaries. The idea is to combine the immediacy of pop and jazz with the classical interest in structural complexity. It works well in a piece like Tangerine Dream, written in collaboration with a workshop for teenagers to accompany a dance piece. Cello and soprano saxophone soar over a hypnotic pulse; Trainer’s increasingly frantic piano improvisation feels like the natural release of pent-up tension, and there is a satisfying dramatic trajectory. Lucky is also good, with its skittish, shifting tempos and a crystalline sax solo by Peter Whyman. Trainer’s lighter-than-air arrangement of Human League’s “Love Action” (also featured on Homemade Orchestra’s album “Inside Covers”) falls just the right side of hopelessly arch.
However, there are also longeurs. The mixture fails to ignite in parts of the aforementioned Knots, and in ID (2001), a piece based on musical mnemonics; Trainer sometimes overestimates the appeal of riffs repeated and elaborated at length. While there is much to enjoy in the music, there remains a nagging sense of too few creative risks being taken; the best moments come when the band is given space to open out. I hope there will be more such moments in future; for now, Knots is flawed but worth hearing.