Raising an Eyebrow
Mostly just trumpet and drums, with the occasional wash of electronics, Eyebrow’s Garden City is one of the most beguiling records I’ve heard in ages. I should imagine that anyone who loves the work of Jon Hassell (particularly the classic Fourth World Vol 1: Possible Musics album with Brian Eno) or Arve Henriksen’s series of solo albums on the Rune Grammofon label will respond to what this Bristol-based duo are up to: a music of substance and elegance that slips easily between foreground and background, unassuming in its surfaces but best rewarding the closest attention.
They were formed in 2009, and this is their fourth album. Pete Judge, the trumpeter, also plays with the excellent quartet Get the Blessing, while Paul Wigens, the drummer, has a CV including spells with Blurt, Natacha Atlas, Viv Albertine, Damo Suzuki and Gary Lucas. On a couple of tracks they’re joined by the bassist/guitarist Jim Barr, another member of Get the Blessing (and of Portishead’s live band).
The format is simple: Wigens sets up an uncluttered, cleanly articulated and sometimes deceptively straightforward basic groove — using not much more than snare and bass drum and hi-hat, occasionally a tom-tom or two — over which Judge moves between written themes and the kind of improvisation that feels as though it grows directly out of the material, with subtle use of mutes and treatments. Barr makes it a three-way conversation with a lightly distorted baritone guitar on one track, “Blind Summit”, and adds a discreet baseline to another, “Scrim”.
On “Thaw”, for example, at 13 minutes the longest piece of the set, a soft electronically-generated background figure runs in and out of phase with Wigens’s slip-sliding pattern, while Judge plays long tones that are eventually expanded by echo or superimposition. Two-thirds of the way through there are a few moments of understated drama when the drummer drops out, allowing the trumpet to soar and resound as if under a cathedral dome.
This is music of quiet imagination and intimate beauty, spare and discreet without being forbiddingly austere, and recorded with fine clarity and presence. It’s on the ninety&nine label (www.ninetyandninerecords.com), and you’ll find a few samples of the music on the band’s own website here. I hope a lot of people get to enjoy it.
* The photograph of Paul Wigens and Pete Judge was taken by Mark Taylor in Arnos Vale Chapel, Bristol.