Noplace by Aidan Baker/Simon Goff/Thor HarrisRelease date: November 10, 2017
Label: Gizeh Records
There’s a smudgy, black and white drawing of a flying/levitating house on the front of ‘Noplace’ like Dorothy’s Kansas farmhouse or maybe that old geezer in ‘Up’. Only there’s no balloons so perhaps it’s born aloft by fierce weather or even supernatural forces.
The record is an improvised collaboration between the relentlessly productive Aidan Baker on guitar, multi-instrumentalist Simon Goff on violin and God of self-made percussion Thor Harris at the drums. In May this year they got together and recorded this over a few hours in the afternoon before playing together that evening in a 9-piece version of Thor & Friends. Also in the band that night, playing musical saw, was Christopher Hefner and the record takes its name from his artwork on the cover.
Alas, no musical saw features on this recording (I do love a bit of musical saw) but perhaps it wouldn’t have fit the mood anyway. It’s not made clear whether the image was a focal point for the session or simply chosen later but there is an extraordinary clarity of intention to the music the trio make here. The often audible interactions between players and developing ideas that can make improvised music so thrilling, or vexing, have all happened in previous sessions or discussions or just been lost in the edit because this is a very consistent piece of work.
Were it being touted as a carefully composed soundtrack for a moody art film, which happened to feature a mysterious flying house, I would have no problem at all in believing it. Sliced up into seven tracks that present variations on the themes while being very clearly parts of the whole it maintains a quietly evocative atmosphere. ‘Noplace I’ introduces the prevailing vibe of soft drums, clean guitar drones, and delicate violin while Noplace II is more atmospheric and virtually beatless.
By part III the pace picks up, the drums are a low thud, the mood is slightly brighter. All three play with uncommon levels of restraint throughout, as if they were actually up there in the house and worried about bringing it crashing to the floor by doing anything too jarring or discordant. Thor’s drumming provides a steady groove pushing things along but there are no splashy cymbals, no fills, not even the skittery abstractions and weird gear shifts so common to improvised pieces. Goff sketches out subtle spidery violin lines across the top. Most ghostly of the three Aidan Baker’s guitar seems to be played by unseen hands, veils of glowing muted colours and hovering drones soak through the tracks.
‘Tin Chapel’ is the most propulsive thing here, driven along on mystery bass and a sense of menace. If it this music was indeed to be the soundtrack to a film then the house on the cover would not be taking us to Oz, or on the whimsical life affirming adventures of ‘Up’, the mood is generally dark, sometimes slightly queasy. Not lurid cabin in the woods slasher vibes but certainly some existential dread and possible dark events unfolding. ‘Northplace’ brings a deeper more ominous atmosphere and winds downwards in distant screeching violins. Closing track ‘Nighplace’ is like stumbling through fog at night, its halting drums and shimmering drones like hesitant footsteps toward shrouded lights.
It’s a richly textured and remarkably coherent record, well worth your time.