REVIEWS


ON: TRANSIT CHECK
We just received this solo viola disc in the mail this week and we know that solo viola discs are extremely rare. This disc was recorded during a tour in Paris and includes a small drawing of Mr. Taylor in performance. Benedict has a unique sound as he twists notes on his viola in all sorts of bent ways. It sounds as if he is playing through an amp without any effects. There is a tradition of free/jazz violin from Michael Sampson (who played with Albert Ayler), to Ornette Coleman to Leroy Jenkins and Billy Bang. Taylor sounds like he is drawing from that tradition while doing things his own way. He pushes hard and plays intensely with passion and finesse. His music is concentrated, consistently fascinating and at times extreme yet focused. I thought that an entire disc of solo viola might not have enough going on, but I was wrong about that. This disc is an incredibly powerful effort and remains both enchanting and unsettling throughout.
 - Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG

ON: COMPOST
This debut release from Cram Records, recorded at Shoreditch Church in 2011, is a true ensemble performance, no single artist dominating.  The music ranges from almost empty whistles and sighs to space-filling density and violent turbulence.  The album puts the listener right in the room; a police siren is clearly audible, as are sniffs and coughs that validate the January recording date.  The players (Daniel Thompson - Guitar, Alex Ward - Clarinet, Benedict Taylor - Viola) leave plenty of space for each other without sounding hesitant; each leaning into the middle ground while constructing a strongly bound sound mass, each gesture causing action and reaction among the musicians.  Ward and Taylor swirl around each other like bugs around a night light; an instinctual and beautiful dance framed by Thompson's subtle interventions: plucking single ringing tones amidst the tumultuousness, occasionally opting for short runs and bouncing string resonance.
'COMPOST' is not only a fascinating document of an absorbing performance, but an interest-piquing introduction to a new label that promises much if later releases are as good as this one.
- Michael Holland/Ears For Eyes


ON: TRANSIT CHECK
'Transit Check' is the latest release from fledgling label Cram, and contains two solo viola improvisations by Benedict Taylor.  Free of sparring partners, Taylor here indulges in longer, more fluid lines than in his work with Alex Ward and Daniel Thompson, there are even some repetitive blues-like squalls here, as if he is imitating an electric guitar freak-out.  There is an excellent use of space and silence throughout; he splits the activity into sudden bursts, like short enclosed chapters within a wider structure.  He employs a wide range of textures: whistling glass, harsh scratches, dense sonorous drones, and a buzz resembling radio static.  There are soaring loops, cross-hatched scribble, and sudden wipes of high-register stabs; a creaking mess of zips and looping sweeps.  A constantly inventive sound picture, in one uncanny moment a chattering ape is evoked, if only briefly.  The playing sometimes sounds multi-tracked, such is its frantic multiplicity, but retains a core of sparse and reflective stillness.  Taylor subjects the instrument to close examination but broadcasts the results with vigour and commitment.
  
 
The microtonal focus, dense serialism, instant action and reductive use of near-silence, position Taylor's playing as a near-primer of New Music's most prevalent avant-garde strategies, but tests them to destruction.  This is an energetic and passionate performance, not a dry intellectual exercise, you can hear the strain and sweat involved; it occasionally resembles someone wailing on a prepared guitar.  It is intensely intelligent but with an evident passion that ensures each recording is as exciting as it is cerebral.

‘Transit Check’ shows that Benedict Taylor is as fascinating in dialogue with himself as in an ensemble setting, seemingly aiming for a Total Music of the viola; a broadcasting of its every possibility.  His command and curiosity is evident in every single minute of these engaging recordings. 
- Michael Holland/Ears For Eyes

ON: COMPOST
On “Compost”, the trio of clarinet, viola and guitar produce a more hard-edged music, which requires sustained attention for its nuances to become apparent. In “Red, Pink and White Grapefruit”, the ear must adjust to the scale in which events unfold: a patchwork of long notes and bubbling trills on the clarinet, resonant scrapes on the viola, small glissandi, a rapid accelerando highlighted by a rise in volume. It is music of atomised phrases, where the shifts range from the rapid to the subtle. Gradually, the gestures are extended, as Alex Ward reveals his immense technical abilities (he took part in Derek Bailey’s Company Week of 1988, at the age of 14). He bristles with new ideas, to which Thompson and Taylor respond with enthusiasm. At times, in the higher registers, it sounds like Ward is singing.
Again, the natural properties of the instruments – their particular timbre, resonance, attack and decay – have much to do with the raw material of the music, and how it’s developed. Clarinet and viola occupy a similar range of pitches in the middle register, which Ward and Taylor exploit in some close interplay, and notes that bleed into each other. Taylor weaves around the other instruments, with portamento slides and glassy harmonics. Thompson’s guitar is spikier, more finely etched in this performance, but he remains alert to every subtle change in dynamics or tempo, often employing percussive techniques on the strings and body of the guitar. There is a lovely passage in which his quite notes and slow trills are complimented by a soft halo from clarinet and viola. 
  
“The Shade Without the Tree”, the closing performance, continues in a similar vein, with the apparently simple opening material found, on closer inspection, to be teeming with potential, as the music bursts in new directions, changes mood and continues to surprise and delight. 
- The Free Jazz Blog

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