Passage To Hades
Pulse – September 2001
The collaboration of Britain’s premier free jazz giant with a favourite post-punk pioneer, Passage To Hades could easily have led to a kind of musical hell, a collision of cultures sufficiently watered down to bear the label Avant-Lite. But Jah wobble has learned much since his days alongside John Lydon in PiL, thanks in large part to some fine collaborations with folks like Can’s Jaki Liebezeit and Holger Czukay. On the album, Wobble is content to lay down thick, dub-heavy bass lines that provide solid yet subtly shifting support for Parker’s extraordinary flights of soprano and tenor sax improvisations. Members of Wobble’s Depe Space project (including drummer Mark sanders from Parker’s own trio) deftly reconcile the sonic extremes, but it’s Parker’s virtuoso performances, fueled by circular breathing and boundless imagination, that ultimately command the spotlight. Like Nils Petter Molvaer’s Khmer, the hypnotic Pasage to Hades is a compelling journey that combines and expands today’s musical vocabularies.
CMJ New Music Report Issue 717 – 4th June 2001
Bassist Jah Wobble got his start in post-punk band PIL, but he’s spent most of his career fusing dubby basslines to everything from African music to ambient Irish ditties. Adventurous English saxophonist Evan Parker needs little introduction in a jazz column. The two are joined by a drummer, flutist and even bagpipes for a four-song set that mixes everything into a blender and comes up with a beautiful groove with the haunting filigree of the front line floating in and out. Parker is fully hooked up here, augmenting his signature circular breathing with an arsenal of delays and other effects. For folks interested in music with no boundaries, Passage To Hades will surprise, thrill and inspire.
sonomu.net –18th June 2001
Partisans of free improv saxophone giant Evan Parker might just hate it. But devotees of Jah Wobble’s unrelenting breeding activities aimed at begetting musical hybrids left and right will get it alright. ‘Passage to Hades’ crosses the energetic embouchure of Parker with the sole-stomping rhythm of Wobble in a spellbinding fourth world ritual mass. Parker’s rapidly-fingered blowing is deliciously sunk into a morass of thick bass lines and dub reverberations courtesy of Wobble.
It is actually only on the last of the four tracks, ‘Finally Cracked It’, that Parker stands front and centre in the mix and is allowed to wail unabated for some fourteen minutes. However, the most interesting moment on the record may just be the opening title track, where a slow, trance-inducing groove provides the context for a ritualistic meeting of incongruous wind instruments, with Thai flute, harmonica and bagpipes joining Parker’s tenor sax. To the credit of both parties, a bold and intelligent work.
Q Magazine – March 2001
Since launching the Hertz label, bassist/composer Jah Wobble has been pursuing his own ideas with the intensity of a teenager given the run of the bar. British saxophonist Evan Parker is possibly the most advanced free improviser in the world. He specializes in astonishing feats of circular breathing: continuous, fast-fingered improvisations that sound like a host of different saxophones playing simultaneously. Here, the pair are joined by drummer Mark Sanders, with Clive Bell and Jean-Pierre Rasle on various pipes, flutes and horns. The theme is the Greek myth of Orpheus attempting to charm Charon into giving him a trip across the River Styx. But the magic is in the almost trance-like repetition, with Parker poking sharp, fast-moving splinters of sound through Wobble’s bass patterns. ***
RTÉ.ie – 5th June 2001
The title of the latest offering from bass adventurer Jah Wobble and jazz maverick Evan Parker may suggest two middle-aged men having a rummage through death metal cast-offs but the truth is far darker indeed. With Wobble’s bass as the low-end anchor and Parker wandering in and out of each arrangement, they call up one free form nightmare after another, from the bag pipe and harmonica death march of the title track to Arabic trippiness of ‘Finally Cracked It’. The results sound like ‘Apocalypse Now’ recreated in some after hours club and are guaranteed to have your speakers raising the white flag by closing time. Best of all, they’ve just played the whole thing live in London, reports of lost souls remain unconfirmed.
DJ Magazine – 30th March 2001
Former PiL bass man Wobble churns out albums like there’s no tomorrow. Here he’s hooked up with the circular breathing, free jazz improv legend Evan Parker. It kicks off with Wobble’s low end theory blending with a soaring combination of lute, bagpipes, tenor sax and harmonica, creating a misty hypnotism that builds into a cascading crescendo of reverberating exoticism. In short, if you want music informed by the Far East, Scotland, Morocco, Can, Dub, Miles Davies, Sun Ra, John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Ornette Coleman and more, look no further. It’s beyond dub, beyond ‘world’, and , quite frankly, it’ll smash your coffee table into a thousand pieces. ****1/2
London Evening Standard (Hot Tickets) – 14th March 2001
Albums that last for nigh on an hour but feature only four tracks rightly set the alarm bells ringing. When said album is revealed to be a slab of vocal-free dub, the humble punter might well be forgiven for running for the exit claiming an allergy to musical showboating. So it’s something of a tribute to former Public Image Limited bassist Jah Wobble that his latest offering, Passage To Hades (no relation to Chris Rea’s Road To Hell, the world will be pleased to hear) is a piece of work that deserves repeated listening. It’s a dense, treacle-thick album, dominated throughout by Wobble’s trademark dark bass rhythms, although lightened in passages by the saxophone of jazz legend Evan Parker. Giving Up The Ghost is a mesmerising chunk of music – a clash of rolling bass and fluttering pipes – but it is the rumble and menace of the title track that truly steals the show.
The Observer – 4 March 2001
This collision with free jazz legend Parker is a stunningly inventive success. The title track is as darkly haunting as its subject matter, a proverb of hell related by flutes, bagpipe drones and Parker’s fluttering, looped sax, all wailing over Wobble’s thunderous reggaematic bass. The rest of the record is lighter in tone, but no less radical; a great meeting of two free spirits.
Daily Express – 2 March 2001
The marriage of Wobble, and free jazz saxophonist Parker is exactly what you’d imagine. Four lengthy pieces that dip into your soul, make it dance and feel free. Booming bass lines, an exotic Eastern influence and some fantastic blowing. It’s great music, liberating in expression and driving in emotion. ****
The Wire – February 2001
Perhaps this is a disingenuous flash of hindsight on my part, but I’m convinced that when I heard Public Image Limited’s first album, back in 1978, I fantasised an addition to the group. That addition was Evan Parker, whose Saxophone Solos and Monoceros releases on Incus (1976 and 1978 respectively) had cut a new seam in the rockface of saxophony. The prospect was very enticing: Parker’s unremitting stream of reed shards cutting their own space alongside John Lydon’s psychobabble and the acid rain riffing of Keith Levene, all three of them screaming like Brian Jones’s hallucinogenic Jajouka panpipes over the dub pulse of Jah Wobble and PiL’s drummer of the day (Jim Walker, I believe).
Be careful what you wish for, they say, because here is the nearest we will ever come to that ‘what if?’ fantasy spawned by the brief convergence of post-punk rock and improvisation in the messy, hectic late 1970s. In full tilt gentleman adventurer mode now that he has his own label, Jah Wobble is setting up sessions like a demon. What both players bring to this particular date (and there is an air of jazz blowing dates about these enterprises) is massive authority. A master of deception, Parker makes a virtue of easing into a piece, assessing the situation, deciding on a course of action . Like a shy man entering a crowded room at a party, he gives the impression that he’s going to bolt for that safe spot by the cooker in the kitchen at the first opportunity and hide there all night. Within moments of these tremulous, uncertain beginnings, however, he storms to the centre of the action and holds his ground against all-comers
As for Wobble, his rhythmic acuity is supernatural. He is on the one, up for the down stroke, rising from the bottom to the top. A clash of two such strong-minded individuals can be catastrophic, but Parker and Wobble are tea and chocolate together: Parker’s granular, pitted tone on tenor and hyper-glossolalic soprano contrasting magnificently with Wobble’s lowdown, rubbery bass. Their rhythmic approach also defends opposite ends of the pitch. Parker worries at phrases, tearing them to thin strips, circling round for another bite, never quite settling; Wobble squats on a riff like the Soto Zen monk Ryokan sitting on a stone, absorbed by the beauty of the moon.
This is not just a lucky jam session, however. Wobble has clearly distinguished two core strengths in Parker’s playing and shaped a propitious setting for them. Repetition is the more obvious of these qualities. With his deep explorations into circular breathing, long lines and small yet insistent variations in timbre, pitch and articulation, Parker closely aligns himself to theories and practices of trance. The repetition of Wobble’s music, born out of his absorption of dub, Can and Dark Magus (see Epiphanies, The Wire 203), accentuates a delirious intoxication with lyrical movement through air and time, and invisible calligraphy, in Parker’s playing otherwise only implicit in solos and improvised groupings. Most people who have the chance to hear La Monte Young’s unreleased recording, “Sunday Morning Blues”, respond by saying it sounds like Evan Parker jamming with The Velvet Underground. Passage To Hades is not quite that, but there are moments when it’s close enough.
The other element that Wobble highlights is Parker’s profound sense of connection to a global continuum in reed playing, vocalisation and other remarkable instrumental technologies and techniques documented by anthropologists, sound recordists and travellers. His intercultural Synergetic project is a proactive aspect of that, a practical and social interest in developing a global language of improvisation with likeminded souls, but there is a more subjective web of links to be drawn from the signature of his personal approach. There may be powerful echoes of John Coltrane and Giant Steps sounding throughout this CD, even Pharoah Sanders’s “Upper Egypt & Lower Egypt” from Tauhid, but more strongly than those venerable inspirations I can hear the taquara clarinets of the Yawalapiti Indians of Upper Xingu, the free reed bamboo pipes of Cambodia, the giant nadhaswaram oboes of India, the tang-p’iri oboe of Korea, the hichiriki of Japanese gagaku, the sacred flutes of Papua New Guinea and the bagpipes of Eastern Europe.
From the launching pad of Wobble on bass and Mark Sanders on drums, the rest of the group takes off for regions mapped into a speculative world where land masses shift to join Lamaist Tibet and medieval Europe to the Mississippi Delta, the Cardomomes Mountains of Cambodia and the Rif Mountains of northern Morocco. Jean-Pierre Rasle’s skirling bagpipes and harsh squalling on rauschpfeife are particularly effective, as are Clive Bell’s Pi Saw flute from Thailand and his rather surprising Country blues harmonica.
At times, it’s as if bastardised and accelerated backing tracks for tapper Zukie’s Man Ah Warrior have fallen into the hands of the ghost of David Munrow and his Early music consort of London. If that makes Passage To Hades sound like some ghastly p-p-p-p-postmodern genre stitch up then I’m failing in my ‘job’. There is a long tradition of this type of ‘free jazz rides a groove’ thing. Archie Shepp, John Stevens, Albert Ayler, Alice Coltrane, John Coltrance, Pharoah Sanders, Don Cherry, Miles Davis, The Art Ensemble, Sun Ra, Sonny Sharrock, Clifford Thornton and Ornette Coleman all recorded glorious examples. Only last year, Derek Bailey made the disconcertingly fabulous Mirake, with harmolodic funksters Jamaaladeen Tacuma and Calvin Weston. Jah Wobble and Evan Parker have added another classic to the canon. All things considered, this is my favourite pairing of unlikely talents since the recent reissue of Impressions of A Patch of Blue by Walt Dickerson and Sun Ra.