The 70s saw a profusion of wildly cross-collateralized musics emanating from groups with solid musical educations, a ton of woodshedding, and artfully abnormal ideas about what could and could not go into the processes of art. Among the more stunning, and thus least heralded, were ensembles like The Art Bears, Dzyan, Art Zoyd, and groups composing pieces and LPs still ahead of their time. And then there was Henry Cow (a group, not a guy's name!). This much-cherished identity saw the exceptional—indeed stratospheric—virtuosities of Lindsay Cooper, Fred Frith, John Greaves, Chris Cutler, Tim Hodgkinson…and Geoff Leigh, the gent here playing winds, zither, percussion, voice drone, and electronics alongside singer-keyboardist-colorationist Yumi Hara. The two, however, have credentials extending well beyond the just-noted. Leigh sat in with Slapp Happy, Hatfield and the North, Univers Zero, Faust, and others. He also duo-ed with Porcupine Tree's brilliant bassist Colin Edward in the Ex-Wise Heads band. Hara duetted with Hugh Hopper (Soft Machine) and then David Cross (King Crimson) while some of her songs have been covered by Piano Circus and Ensemble Bash.
Even the promo lit isn't sure if the pieces are spontaneous, composed, or a blend of both, but it hardly matters, as there's a hell of a lot of what made all the just-cited groups great. Leigh and Hara masterfully leash the familiar and the chaotic to come up with a disc leaning heavily into the latter with all the grace and coherence of the former. Thus, Upstream is neo-free-fuso-prog-jazz-noise music heavily invested with orientalist airs (Upstream, Stone of the Beach, etc.) and abstract imagery laid atop the familiar, the exotic, and the suggestive.
Almost all the cuts are lengthy (see the times noted below), taking the space necessary to create their atmospheres and then perambulate with gestural abandon within themselves. Such chartable discourse within opuses like these, of course, is what accounts for whether the result will be oblique or filled with marvels. Here, the latter is most decidedly the case, making a release that's going to attract both abstractionists and neoclassical traditionalists, not to mention all the niches between. It goes, then, without saying that Upstream is definitely not music for everyone, but, looking to those with advanced aesthetics and well-tuned ears, a CD that will repay many many re-listenings, trenchant with nuance and imbued with a formlessness that constantly re-creates itself.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles