First SETT
Second SETT

John Edwards : double bass
Dirk Serries : acoustic guitar
Benedict Taylor : viola
Daniel Thompson : acoustic guitar

Performed at the Dave Hunt studio (London, UK) on November 16th 2019.  Recorded and mixed by Dave Hunt.

Sleeve notes : Guy Peters.
Layout : Rutger Zuydervelt

“A New Wave of Jazz is both an obvious & a curious name for a relatively new improvised music label — specifically one started by Belgian guitarist Dirk Serries. And although I’d auditioned some of the sparse music based on pure tones that marks some early releases from the label, I’d mostly heard Serries (whom I hadn’t mentioned here to this point) himself in more of a post-rock mode, or indeed classic wailing free jazz, i.e. (to be reductive) protest music. (One might even contrast A New Wave of Jazz with e.g. Raw Tonk, on which Serries & many of the same musicians appear, there in a generally more aggressively free — even primitivist — mode.) Some of his other work is more truly reductive, however, with e.g. Tonus focusing on held tones in a sort of post-Cage mode (akin to Frey or some of the other composed music on e.g. Another Timbre), embracing silence & forging an extended affective space. The latter style appears to have an increasing number of practitioners, with interrogations of sustain & continuity already having been noted as trends, and so whereas it certainly contrasts with Serries’ punk guitar approach in other projects, it hasn’t been (at least superficially) novel. Where Serries’ approach to reduction becomes more intriguing, however, is in various (generally more recent) projects to contextualize rock or protest-type materials within a scheme of (dodecaphonic) linearization, yielding then to spatialization & facilitating (polyphonic) combinations in turn. And the most recent set of eight releases on the label appear to take striking steps toward this new style (or wave): I’m going to focus on First and Second, a studio improvisation on which Serries (specifically on acoustic guitar) is joined by Daniel Thompson (acoustic guitar), Benedict Taylor (viola) & John Edwards (double bass) to form the quartet SETT, but also want to note e.g. Vanguard (on which Serries is joined by Tom Malmendier — mentioned here again only last month — for what is basically a linear distillation of rock “material” into sparse process music) & indeed the general variety of releases, a couple rather more traditionally free. These albums don’t all present as post-Cage music, then, but do appear to internalize those ideas…. So one might then begin to perceive a hylomorphic conception in the work of Serries et al., i.e. an Aristotelian duality between material & form. Of course, such an impression is already buoyed by the label’s headline quote from Aristotle, “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” (In my more theoretical discussions elsewhere — & to reiterate, I have a visceral negative reaction to imperial “philosophers” like Aristotle — I forego hierarchical notions of significance per se for an open emphasis on relationality, which might be according to any mode, or even along contours of non-relation as otherwise brought together contextually….) In some sense, then, the music suggests a retreat from the real world into an (also Platonic, but not “scored”) realm of idealized abstraction, and so problematizes any “jazz” association. (On some albums, the “material” includes “jazz” though — never sampled, but distilled.) However, I’ve already “abstracted” jazz in this space (per the opening at the top) to be about aspirations for change — and here these would also be globalized aspirations, i.e. as arising from collisions. (One might even characterize coronavirus, say, as human-animal collision, i.e. as ultimately triggered by the spatial involution of globalization….) In that sense, I hear the SETT quartet working to forge new global combinations & relations, albeit more around these hylomorphic ideas, but according to the real urgencies for interacting differently today. And in a world where we’re still constantly being told that “there is no alternative,” such creativity is useful by itself. (And I also want to repeat myself further from prior discussions: Making sound by blowing or banging or what-have-you is not an abstraction. The concept of a pure tone, the same across different sounding bodies, is already an abstraction. Western tonality is an abstraction.) So if A New World of Jazz suggests a hylomorphic emphasis overall, what is the “material” of First and Second? Moreover, to what extent does it collide itself with formal conceptions of space & line? Whereas the latter is clearly inspired by a dodecaphonic (process) linearization & a post-Cage concept of silence & space (& let’s not forget that dodecaphony actually informed much of Cage’s music), the material on First and Second sometimes “invades” these abstractions, subsuming them into a general polyphony. That’s what makes First and Second a particularly striking album for me, and of course that depends on the other musicians as well, all of whom have been prominent in this space: Taylor & Thompson had already appeared together e.g. on the trio Hunt at the Brook (released in 2015, and a longtime favorite here), and that album shows similar traits: It can be leisurely or present as a more aggressively technical tour-de-force, likewise projecting an air of severity, but there sometimes with a hint of (quasi-romantic) nostalgia. The evocations, though, tend to be of sounds from nature, i.e. zoological, meteorological, etc. (I hadn’t mentioned Taylor much lately, but he appears to be gaining popular attention through his film scores, and there’s something of a cinematic sense to First and Second at times too…. He’s already appeared on three previous albums on A New Wave of Jazz, though, involving a variety of extended techniques & preparations. Prior to this, I’d mentioned Taylor in July 2019 around Landscapes, a quartet with Paul Dunmall & an album likewise invoking its title while showing a similar technical sophistication, particularly between Taylor & Ashley John Long on bass — but also retaining a sort of popular-progressive vibe that brought some ambivalence for me.) And I’m not aware of Edwards having recorded with Serries or Taylor prior to this, but he’s been appearing with Thompson in Runcible Quintet (as discussed around Three last month, or of course Four, with its own globalized melodic & rhythmic variety, often lush in its ecology…). And in another vein, perhaps I should also mention Vulcan, as first discussed here in May 2019, with Edwards in the more “conventional” Stellari String Quartet for another album that requires close attention to its figurations & probably repeated hearings. Thompson’s recent work — pace starting already with Hunt at the Brook & prior — is probably the most illuminating for this specific project, however: I’d discussed the trio album Xoo back in January, and there a general “habitat” is constructed around Thompson’s various finger attacks & arpeggiation, i.e. marsh, bird calls, coastal seafaring…. Xoo thus suggests a “natural sonic environment,” and is generally both more sparse & less abstracted (i.e. less fused with compositional concepts) than First and Second. Finally, there is Thompson’s solo album Finch from the same recent batch of eight albums from A New Wave of Jazz: The short final track is an actual field recording, but the four prior improvisations disarticulate the birdsong by varying concepts of attack according to different modes of simultaneity or near-simultaneity, i.e. with an increasingly generalized “call” not only projected via strings — analogously to how Messiaen “stretched” birdsong to make it fit the piano, but here with more possibilities for both microtones & microrhythms — but also suggesting habitat per se according to its own repetition & juxtaposition. In other words, one might speak e.g. of Umwelt & so constructions of perception per se: The interrogation thus moves beyond a more traditional ethological orientation, suggesting an ongoing becoming-habitat via sound alone (& in this case, that sound is a solo acoustic guitar). And while I’d noted previously that Thompson can seem as though he’s in the background on many (very welcome) productions, that’s hardly possible on a solo album — albeit one that fuses foreground & background (per Umwelt notions).  Technical exploration & abstraction come together with a naturalistic orientation toward material on First and Second as well, then, with the frequent severity of its linear spatialization — i.e. counterpoint — suggesting a new conception. It was recorded in London this past November, and can certainly be challenging music to hear: As noted, there’s often a sparseness & even a sense of touching silence amid what might also be characterized as a study of line…. (And note that Cage’s own “material” in e.g. his late Number Pieces is often rather sophisticated itself, involving microtones & embracing various conceptions of dissonance within what might also be termed a “formal ecology” of temporal bracketing….) And also as noted, at times there’s a more traditional or aggressive sense of musical momentum that moves beyond distillation of line so as to engulf the entire quartet — in turn suggesting variations of distance, i.e. perspective (& even a sense of cinema, i.e. while focusing in or especially when panning out…). One might then suggest notions of cycle or season, maybe cleansing & renewal, but also different scenes or habitats: One can hear a lush tropical setting at one point, but more often (again) vistas of marsh or moor, occasionally intersecting more human activity amid the birds & thickets & wind…. (One might also compare to e.g. Un seul regard le chant pétri de beauté un mot vert, as also discussed last month — a quintet with delicate percussion added to two guitars, viola & double bass that also suggests a twittering landscape — or running water — amid a wave-like approach to fragility, strength & transformation: These albums share, moreover, a sense of relationality moving beyond depiction, i.e. beyond the cinematic….) Brush & water fowl, then, often dominate these lines, yet aren’t necessarily audible immediately, according to the intense sense of process abstraction that continues to maintain on First and Second: One might contrast with the simultaneous obviousness & non-obviousness of contemporary global politics, i.e. of exploitation & “What next?” One finds desolation, but one also finds renewed activity, i.e. the basic indomitable quality of life. (And in this, while involving various differences, the two tracks are also basically similar, the second following & continuing to develop similar ideas as the first: They both suggest a temporal canvas, i.e. accommodating “line” in the sense of Cage’s late work — which can take on visual implications as well.) And here the various layers of interaction, as some of these habitats continue to collide via (globalized) linearization, suggest new orientations & perspectives themselves, new strokes & combinations of life…. (This is where the musical experience tends to exceed the hylomorphic concept.) A rather different sort of intensity is thus constructed, embracing the strength of the nonhuman (perhaps emerging into a revised pan-human Umwelt?), but also incorporating a sense of tonal purity via advanced compositional techniques & beyond transcription per se. And even as jazz might be figured (in quasi-Aristotelian terms) as material exceeding form, i.e. as irrupting (historically) through interstices, First and Second comes to ask not only, “What now?” but also to offer some answers: Colliding worlds will be affected & changed, but can also retain much of their own internalized contour (i.e. moving beyond dated, imperial senses of universality). And note that “worlds in collision” is very much our contemporary, global reality — beyond human worlds, but not (much) beyond the globe. So as this discussion probably already suggests, this is ambitious music (& I should probably also acknowledge that due to slow mail service from Europe, I’ve so far been unable to read the accompanying liner notes).” Todd McComb’s Jazz Thoughts – USA

“3 out of 5 stars. First And Second presents us with just over fifty minutes worth of improv that’s highly angular, difficult-yet playful & somewhat curious. It comes in the form of CD release from New Wave Of Jazz, a Belgium based label who primarily focuses in all that’s abstract, noise-bound & deliberately difficult in modern composition.  SETT is a largely British four-piece that brings together John Edwards on Double bass, Benedict Taylor on Viola, Daniel Thompson on acoustic guitar, and Belgian Dirk Serries also on acoustic guitar- so it’s decidedly odd/ unusual line-up, even by improv stands- and boy do the four-piece push out some extremely jarring & grating work, that totally steers clear of melody and rhythm. Though instead of falling into being a messy & wonky din, there is an odd kind logic/ shape, and angular wonder at play through much of the CD’s runtime. The CD takes in two around twenty  five minutes’ tracks- and each is as eventful, darting & at times noisily playful as each other. So we start off with “First SETT”- and here we move from an awkward meeting guitar neck creek ‘n’ body knock, scrabbling string fiddles, and whining swoons. Onto wonders into tight bass bows ‘n’ string-to-neck manic-ness. Through to blends of constricted strums, sawing scrapes & wailing bays. The first track seems to fly by, as the four play-off & build-off each other in most inventive-yet-highly off-kilter manner.  Lastly, we have “Second SETT”- this starts in an almost down-turned & melancholic musical manner with drifted- just off-key strums, tight bass fiddles, and strings whistling. But fairly soon we drop back into darting & often rapidly scurrying improv- we go from mixers of bounding-yet-tight ’n’ scraping bass rumble, flitting string-bound sourness, and rapid neck runs. Through to tightly mangled piles up of manic string fiddles & rocking saws. Onto slightly more spaced-yet- no-less tense sonic landscapes of neck noise, lightly bounding & wondering bass tone, and sourly mischievous string slice ‘n’ swoop. This track feels maybe a little moodier, with at times an almost manic-yet-foreboding quality to it, that for some reason brings to mind a blackly smoked hazed storm shifting through a noir junkyard- odd imagery I know, but that’s what keeps coming to mind.  There’s no doubt that this four-way collaboration created some inventive-yet-angular work, and it’ll be interesting to see if this line-up work together again as they do certainly have good sonic chemistry. If you dig improv at the edge of darting chaos & often scrabbling manic-ness, then I’d say this is for you!.” Musique Machine – UK

Het kwartet dat opereert onder de naam SETT bestaat uit Serries en Taylor, aangevuld met bassist John Edwards en een tweede gitarist, Daniel Thompson. We hebben dus van doen met een bijzondere bezetting: alleen snaarinstrumenten, geen drums, geen piano en geen blazers. Hoogst ongewoon. Voordeel is dat de klanken prachtig in elkaar grijpen in de twee stukken die aangeduid zijn met ‘First SETT’ en ‘Second SETT’. Nog meer dan op de andere albums is het hier dan ook vrijwel onmogelijk om een klank te herleiden tot een specifiek instrument. Wat daarbij een rol speelt is dat het er over het algemeen zeer harmonieus aan toe gaat. Er zijn aardig wat momenten aan te wijzen waarop de vier musici erin slagen om een krachtige totaalervaring te creëren. Het meest bijzondere vind ik echter de verstilde passages, bijvoorbeeld startend bij zo’n minuut of zeven in de tweede set. Nauwelijks hoorbaar komen de geluiden tot ons, vaak onorthodox voortgebracht door een of meerdere van deze snaarinstrumenten. Het lijken soms wel veldopnames, zo subtiel en ongewoon. Luisteren met uiterste concentratie wordt hier zonder meer beloond.” Draai Om Je Oren/Nieuwe Noten – The Netherlands

“Two 25-minute-plus sets by a most unconventional string quartet: features John Edwards on double bass, Benedict Taylor on viola and Dirk Serries and Daniel Thompson on acoustic guitar.” Kevin Press/The Moderns – Canada

“Van alle verschillende combinaties van muzikanten en instrumenten binnen het A New Wave of Jazz-label, is het kwartet SETT misschien wel de meest bijzondere. Het kwartet bestaat uit Dirk Serries en Daniel Thompson op akoestische gitaar, Benedict Taylor op altviool en John Edwards op contrabas. Voor laatstgenoemde is het zijn eerste verschijning op een uitgave van het label. Onbekend is hij allerminst. De Britse veteraan speelde met o.a. Evan Parker, Veryan Weston, Phil Minton, Roscoe Mitchell en Lol Coxhill (de lijst is veel langer).  Het opvallende van dit kwartet is natuurlijk dat het om vier strijkinstrumenten gaat, dus geen blazer(s), geen slagwerk en geen piano. Dat dit geenszins een verarming betekent, bewijst het kwartet op First and Second in twee lange improvisaties van elk vijfentwintig minuten. Van alle acht cd’s die tegelijkertijd zijn verschenen, is dit de meest uitdagende. Er is geen uitgestippelde koers, geen vooropgezet plan en geen vangnet. Er is alleen het moment.  Met een bezetting met vier snaarinstrumenten zou je kunnen denken dat de muzikanten, allemaal vrij improviserend, elkaar in de weg kunnen zitten. Niets daarvan blijkt bij SETT. Het kwartet kan zeer verstild musiceren en dat zoiets ook kan met staccato klanken, bewijst het viertal in beide improvisaties. Er zijn echter ook robuuste passages waarin alle vier de muzikanten tegelijkertijd en door elkaar heen spelen. De mogelijkheden die de instrumenten bieden, zijn eindeloos. Niet alleen conventioneel gebruik van het instrument, maar vooral ook het onconventionele aspect van het (samen)spel maakt de muziek uitdagend en spannend.  Alle instrumenten kunnen met de vingers, pizzicato, worden bespeeld, maar ook met een strijkstok of objecten. Op de klankkast en de snaren kan worden geslagen, of er kan over worden gewreven, met vingers of nagels, maar ook met de voor- of achterkant van de strijkstok. Met vier instrumenten in de bezetting, kunnen de verschillende mogelijkheden tegelijkertijd worden benut. Zo kent ‘First SETT’ een prachtige passage waarin Serries en Thompson tokkelen op hun gitaar, terwijl Edwards en Taylor de snaren van hun instrument met een strijkstok beroeren. Er wordt ook ruimte gecreëerd; niet elke muzikant hoeft constant in de weer te zijn. In de eerste set levert dat na zo’n dertien minuten een verstild gedeelte op waarin gitaarklanken mogen doorklinken en de bas en altviool licht ontregelen met korte klanken.  In de tweede set valt onder meer op hoe verschillend de gitaristen spelen als zij tegelijkertijd in de weer zijn. Het percussieve element is aanwezig in beide sets, maar het is niet waar het om draait. Het gaat om de interactie, om de ingevingen en hoe die in het moment af te stemmen met de andere muzikanten. De muziek is zeer speels maar heeft ook een serieuze dictie. Zelfs in de meest rustige passages is de muziek constant in beweging.  Met vier muzikaal gelijkgestemde maar vooral individuele geesten, kan het niet anders dan dat de muziek veelomvattend is. De ideeën blijven constant stromen en dat betekent dat er steeds iets gebeurt. Wie naar rust aan zijn oren verlangt, moet hier niet zijn. Het is muziek voor wie het avontuur zoekt, voor wie kan genieten van spontane ingevingen in veelvoud. Het is niet zo dat het zich allemaal in hoog tempo afspeelt, maar in vrijwel elke muzikale frase is er meer aan de hand dan je zou vermoeden of verwachten. Herhaald beluisteren wordt aanbevolen; het wordt alleen maar mooier.” Opduvel – The Netherlands

“Een onorthodox snarenkwartet gevormd door twee akoestische gitaristen (Dirk Serries, Daniel Thompson), een contrabas (John Edwards) en een viola (Benedict Taylor).De vier komen weliswaar uit eenzelfde impromilieu maar hebben toch elk hun idiomatische signatuur. Overheersend kenmerk in deze constellatie is het wederzijds respect. Tot een virulente confrontatie komt het nooit, het is hoofdzakelijk een spel van complementaire schakeringen. Stereotiepe verhaallijnen mijden ze daarbij. Meest extreme momenten zijn deze waar ze elkaar pareren met licht afwijkende en suggestieve patronen. Het lijkt daardoor eerder of ze gezamenlijk op zoek zijn naar een nieuwe conceptie van stilte, allemaal heel minutieus en ingetogen uitgewerkt.” Jazz’Halo – Belgium

“SETT is Serries on acoustic guitars (in fact, he is playing that on all of these releases here), John Edwards (double bass), Benedict Taylor (viola) and Daniel Thompson (acoustic guitar); other than Edwards, people with whom Serries works regularly. A work of improvised music for four string instruments; it is not as unusual as the liner notes suggest. There is quite a difference in how these instruments sound and that is what brings the variety to the two pieces, each around twenty-five minutes. All of the instruments can be recognized as such especially the violin and bass, and the two guitars are maltreated, yet none of this leads to playing the instruments as objects. Also, not much of this is very carefully played, but rather with some pleasant aggression and attack. This results in two seemingly endless streams of sounds, cut notes, sustaining tones and broken up short cuts. It is not always heavy or loud, as they allow themselves to be ‘quiet’ and ‘introspective’. Despite the apparent chaos that exudes from this, there is quite a bit of control and interaction going on here. This is very much the result of listening and responding (or keeping quiet; whatever is required, really) by the four musicians, resulting in an excellent disc.” Vital Weekly – The Netherlands

“**** rating. SETT is a an acoustic strings quartet, featuring British most prolific double bass player John Edwards, Serries and Daniel Thompson on acoustic guitars and violist Benedict Taylor, recorded at the Dave Hunt studio, London in November 2019. SETT does not attempt to offer free-improvised chamber music, but to push the sonic envelope of these fearless improvisers. First and Second offers two extended improvisations, rooted in the legacy of the British legacy of uncompromising, non-idiomatic free music. The interplay on “First SETT” is super intense, physical and often tough and confrontational, as if all are in a kind of a battle of bows (and extended bowing techniques), with few segments where the interplay opens for more sparse interactions. Clearly, SETT resists any rhythmic or melodic patterns but creating a fertile, provocative tension that keeps feeding the challenging music. “Second SETT” adopts a completely different strategy. SETT builds the tension slowly in an introspective and subtle manner and as the interplay is more emphatic and open, with brief sparks of playfulness. Patiently, SETT solidifies the nuanced texture but also emphasizes that this first recording session of SETT is only the beginning of a promising future.” Free Jazz Blog

“Czas na bystry, niemal gwiazdorski w obsadzie, nearly Contemporary but crazy String Quartet! Otwarcia dokonuje Serries i jego gitara, posadowiona na lewej flance. Po chwili dołączają kolejne instrumenty, ku prawej stronie patrząc – kontrabas Edwardsa uderzany dłonią, smukła altówka Taylora, wreszcie wyważona, akustycznie czysta jak łza, gitara Thompsona. Pierwsza z gitar stawia na preparacje, druga snuje półakordy, altówka i kontrabas płyną zaś swobodnym chamber, dobrze przy tym używając smyczka. Narracja szyta jest gęstym ściegiem, prezentuje szerokie spektrum ekspresji i stosowanych środków wyrazu. Po sześciu minutach muzycy decydują się na pierwsze zejście w okolice ciszy, podkreślone preparacjami altówki. Powrót do bardziej żwawej narracji następuje jednak dość szybko, głównie dzięki masywnym warstwom fonii, generowanych przez kontrabas. Gdy znów nastanie cisza, artyści proponują fazę filigranowych imitacji altówki i kontrabasu, czemu towarzyszy aktywna postawa Serriesa i pewna dramaturgiczna opieszałość Thompsona. Po kilku minutach kwartet osiąga kolejny już dziś stan intensywności, pełny akustycznych błyskotek. Po skromnym wyhamowaniu, krótkie, minimalistyczne solo prawej gitary, które przeradza się w duet z lewą gitarą, a skomentowany zostaje przez altówkę. Kilka kroków czynionych na palcach, a potem wielki skok w intensywną kipiel improwizacyjnej ekspresji. Zwłaszcza gitary zioną tu ogniem, po czym burczą zmysłowymi dronami. Zmiany, zmiany, zmiany… Gitara Dirka atakuje wyważonymi riffami, altówka skrzeczy, kontrabas stuka, a Daniel piłuje struny. Piękny moment narracji, która po małej dekonstrukcji zdaje się skrzypieć i rzęzić. Finał seta upływa na wymianie wyłącznie pozytywnych, zadziornych fraz.

Drugi set otwiera drżenie kontrabasu. Reszta instrumentów snuje małe fonie i czeka na przebieg wydarzeń. Minimal and so dark chamber as well! Po krótkiej rozgrzewce kwartet idzie w tango z uśmiechem na ustach. W połowie szóstej minuty czeka na nas prawdziwa perełka – kontrabas i altówka plączą się wzajemnie posuwistymi smyczkami. Po stoppingu – garść macanek i przytulanek, czyniona niemal w zupełnej ciszy. Po ochłonięciu, żwawe wyjście na prostą, w trakcie którego każdy z muzyków stosuje inną technikę gry. Struny skowyczą, tańczą, skrzeczą i pyskują. Cała improwizacja skrzy się bezgraniczną kreatywnością. Po trzynastej minucie smyki płoną już ogniem piekielnym, a palce na strunach gitar tańczą w małym obłędzie. Wygaszanie tych emocji, czynione bardzo kameralnie, stawia ów moment płyty po stronie wybitnych jej atutów! Cisza, która trzeszczy, liczy struny i piłuje. Muzycy systematycznie wydają się wspinać na ostatnie dziś wzniesienie – smyki harcują, ich dźwięki gęstnieją – krzyki, warknięcia, kanty i zadziory, a pod nim wulgarny dron kontrabasowego smyka. What a game! Przed upływem 23 minuty wszyscy, jak najbardziej kolektywnie, zarządzają finałowy odwrót, którego ważniejsze elementy składowe, to muskanie strun, szumy i szmery pomiędzy nimi, ćwierćtony i źdźbła nadchodzącej, ostatecznej ciszy.” Spontaneous Music Tribune – Poland