Stephen Chase reviews Day Night by John Edwards & Caroline Kraabel, released under Takuroku, Cafe Oto’s digital label supporting artists in lockdown.

Sparks of ignition as grinding then shimmering tones abut each other glinting and hovering. Shades of Xenakis and Scelsi at their most earthy loom out from the bass. The saxophone, increasingly aided by vocalisations, makes tiny melodic ululations before the bass lurches into plucked riffing (is that a glimpse of John Paul Young’s ‘Love is in the Air’?), then freefalling into a searching slo-mo lacuna of feather-like movements. Gloves off, as the track title states.

© and  2020 John Edwards and Caroline Kraabel, PRS, all rights reserved.

Caroline Kraabel and John Edwards have been mainstays of the London improvising scene since at least the late 1980s: Kraabel known especially via her Resonance FM programmes, pacing London’s streets with saxophone (and at times, baby & buggy) in tow, and her 20-piece assemblage of saxophones and voices, the Mass Producers. Edwards has long been a ‘go-to’ bassist for touring musicians, featuring in numerous groups assembled by the likes of Evan Parker, Peter Brötzmann, and Steve Noble, to name a few. Both have collaborated from time to time in groups such as The Remote Viewers and the London Improvisers Orchestra.

© and  2020 John Edwards and Caroline Kraabel, PRS, all rights reserved.

Kraabel and Edwards are also a couple and, confined to quarters like the rest of us during the Covid-19 restrictions, made this engaging album of two halves: gloves off, and masks off, recorded at midday and midnight respectively. “…we face things, including sound”, they state in the liner notes. Free improvisation is very much about placing oneself in a situation without apparent recourse to reliable conventions; it’s a precarious music (and it’s tempting to add, for precarious times).

This is music heard in close-up. The four walls of a home establishing a dry but warm acoustic. But to call it a response to confinement feels wrong somehow – here, especially on gloves off, there are worlds opening up and a sense of limitless possibility as each player ups the ante.

Masks off, made at the witching hour, is correspondingly crepuscular, like unsettled sleep. Though the dynamic level is a little lower the intensity of the music-making isn’t any the less. The sax is even more than before a conduit for vocal tones and respiratory sounds. Respiration and intimacy are to the fore in this music, shaping the emergent phrasing in irregular micro-patterns. Edwards’ bass is as much scraped and rubbed as plucked with both players moving towards the other’s variegated timbres, whistling, whispering, rattling as trees bend and clouds billow and scud.

© and  2020 John Edwards and Caroline Kraabel, PRS, all rights reserved.

Kraabel and Edwards create a music of constant freewheeling invention but with a sharp weather eye open to navigate the twists and turns. The musicians not so much laying down paths as fell running together through thickets. Who knows what the neighbours thought?

You can buy the record here – 50% of profits support the artist and 50% support Cafe Oto.

All tracks by Caroline Kraabel and John Edwards. Photo by Régine Edwards. Artwork design by Oliver Barrett
© and℗2020 John Edwards and Caroline Kraabel, PRS, all rights reserved.

Stephen Chase composes, improvises and walks quite a lot. Most of his work explores interaction between people, action and spaces through sound and time. He has made music variously with Exaudi, Quatuor Bozzini, Philip Thomas, Choir Brevis, Music We’d Like to Hear, Bank St Arts, CoMA, Luke Poot, Ryoko Akama, Patrick Farmer, Ross Parfitt, Coastguard All Stars, piggle and Freaking Glamorous Teapot. He is co-editor of a book on the music of Christian Wolff, and convenes the occasional live series ‘mon se taire truc’.

Twitter: @StephenTChase