Seemingly positioning himself furthest from the Led Zeppelin spotlight back in the day, John Paul Jones is proof of the old adage “watch out for the quiet ones”. In those confused daze John Paul Jones was always the most musically adventurous of that Bacchanalian quartet, his keyboard textures helping greatly to unshackle the good ship Zeppelin from the restrictions of dem blooze influences, particularly on songs such as No Quarter. His eclectic and inquisitive post-Zep journey has for the most part taken the path less obvious, resulting in a career below most Zep fans’ radars. Occasionally making blips in the rock mainstream, most recently with the oddly monochrome Them Crooked Vultures, Jones’ otherwise experimental ear has latterly culminated in this strange offering of an album. Cloud To Ground sits in front of me now, eagerly awaiting dissemination with a “work this one out if you can” glint in its eye.
Minibus Pimps is a collaboration between John Paul Jones and Helge Sten (aka Deathprod), a member of the long-running savage beast that is Norwegian improvisational group Supersilent, with whom Jones has played some shows back in 2010 and 2012. I had the pleasure of reviewing Places Of Worship by Arve Henriksen, who is another member of Supersilent in these very pages not so long ago.
Right…time to hit “Play”…
The wagon train has circled to repel all outside influence, and within John and Helge are free to go wherever the muse takes them, and with the first part of Black Aurora she has chosen the company of a cloud of angry wasps, buzzing and swirling in the maelstrom. Part two creates a Magellan cloud of dark ambience, while part three is centered on a conversation with what sounds like treated piano strings in a blender, interfered with by a strange call and response from the ether. Finally, becalmed, we float in the void and disappear into insignificance, overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of it all.
The tracks on this album were recorded live at venues in London and Scandinavia, where the improvisations from guitar, bass and violin are put through a Kyma audio regenerating computer system, previously used by Jones on his solo albums Zooma and The Thunderthief; the instrumental input is then digitally mangled until the origin of the sounds produced become unrecognisable. Helge states that the music is equal parts composed and improvised, but such is the transformation of sound through the electronics that it is nigh on impossible to pinpoint either component.
The title track cuts through like an icebreaker, flinging aside shattered sheets of dark matter as it goes. I believe there may be an organ in their somewhere. Arc shines a light into some very dark corners of the psyche, an otherworldly and stately slice of luminescence. The mini-album ends with Superbolt, an eerie ever-rising drone from an alien cathedral, amongst the incessant chatter of unimaginable horrors. This is not background music to do the ironing to!
Just one look at the band’s Facebook page shows the power of having a “name” in the band. If Helge Sten had made this album with A N Other, you can guarantee it would never have garnered reviews from such unlikely places as The London Evening Standard and The Financial Times (!) as well as just about every music publication and blog going. This is NOT, in any way shape or form, mainstream music, and I am no doubt preaching to the converted on these pages, but if only one out of the thousands who read those mainstream reviews has gone on to obtain this wonderfully difficult album, and consequently investigated further the murky water of improvised jazz electronica, then that is indeed a commendable outcome.
01. Black Aurora Pt 1 – 4 (15:56)
02. Cloud To Ground (4:14)
03. Arc (4:30)
04. Superbolt (4:21)
Total Time – 29:02
John Paul Jones – Instruments, Kyma computer system
Helge Sten – Electronica
Note – this is a minimalist approximation of who does what, as the whole is greater than the sum of parts!
Record Label: SusannaSonata
Year Of Release: 2014