Soundchecks Music Reviews

Holding Up the Sky by Ex-Wise Heads Mirage by Cathy Williams and Geoff Leigh

Hard World HWCD003 / HWCD004

exwiseheads.co.uk

HOLDING UP THE SKY
Ex-Wise Heads
MIRAGE
Cathy Williams and Geoff Leigh

reviews by Andrew Darlington

These are spontaneous musics ensembled by softer machines. Trance-dancing nebulae achieved through accidental designs. Fuzzy logic in chance encounters with elasticated rock and rhythmic theorems, a scurry of subtle emanations from infinities of fluid contra-continuums. Themes from imaginary movies, probably Bunuel, where the sky moves sideways, and submerged voices murmur.

Geoff Leigh is the unifying force, a long-time activist component of the left-inclined improvisational avant-garde. He provides the Charles Lloyd flutes and soprano sax in Ex-Wise Heads, and he's also on Mirage, in binary with Cathy Williams. He started out with Fred Frith in Cambridge in 1968, and the musical awkward-squad names that drift through his résumé include Daevid Allen, Robert Wyatt, Mike Oldfield, Lindsay Cooper, Faust, and Red Balune (with Cathy). He was also part of the determinedly anti-commercial Henry Cow from April 1972 to around December 1973, a group signed to Virgin, back when Virgin was an out-there experimental label.

This is Geoff's third CD with Ex-Wise Heads, a sporadic link-up with Colin Edwin (sometime part of neo-psychedelicatessen Porcupine Tree), following the live No Grey Matter (2000) and the expanded line-up of Time & Emotion Study (2003). And Holding Up The Sky involves sound as insubstantially insistent as the cosmic rays that spin asteroids, as tentacular as Allen Ginsberg's beard.

Termite Parade responds to SETI signals from 61 Cygni, as soft and dark-dispelling as methane drizzle on Titan, set to the immaculate pulse of tabla's pacing, congas slewing, percussion jostling. Royal Flush has its ESP tuned miles ahead, miles in the sky, off charting DNA spirals. The noodling repeated bass figures that form the spine of the sparse Cape Spartel are massaged into shape by percussion nudges and odd sampled structures of dislocation, which then go trip-hopping into Winter Of Discontent, its texture too full of incident for efficient ambient chill-out.

Elsewhere, Mirage is a brotherhood (and sisterhood) of breathy ethno-fusions spun into helixes of semi-precious stones. New agey time-lost ruminations over droning harmonium, raga-scales and singing bowls, by-passing the rude vigour of bhangra, Bollywood materialism and the Mumbai call-centres for a mythic mystical archaic India of hippie meanderings. Windfall is a flux of wordless meditation and interacting breath. Free Tibet a mantra that recalls Stockhausen's Stimmung, Meera a pantheistic blend of 21st century Krishna medievalism, and bird-song.

Until Gaia closes it all, with a suitably timeless image of waves endlessly looping on some primal beach. This stuff is difficult music only if you come to it from set preconceptions about verse-chorus, middle-eight structures. Unhook your mind, and flow with it, and there's no problem at all. Such intentionally willed non-conformity is especially vital now when every supposedly alternative indie band is merely out-striving each other to become the next U2, or the next Coldplay...


Edited by Tony Lee
for PIGASUS Press