Sunday, February 11, 2007

Robin Williamson "Skirting The River Road" 2003

On his second outing for ECM, Scottish bard and minstrel Robin Williamson moves to resurrect the spirit if not the letter of the ghost of his former Incredible String Band. On his last album for ECM, Williamson appeared completely solo in recreating in a musical setting the works of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. The result was stunning; The Seed-at-Zero was a theatrical and haunting work of great power and beauty. This time out Williamson is bringing the heart of poets William Blake, Walt Whitman, and Henry Vaughan. And as satisfying as the previous album was, Williamson in characteristic fashion has upped the ante by enlisting the help of jazz and folk musicians from all over the world. First there's the renowned Swedish string and flute player Ale Möller, who uses everything from a hammered dulcimer, a mandola, drone flutes, and vibraphones to accompany Williamson, and there's also American microtonal improviser and composer Mat Maneri on violin, saxophonist Paul Dunmall, and bassist Mick Hutton from Great Britain. What this team does in accompanying Williamson is to free him to reach wider and deeper into the very skeletons of the works he has selected to interpret. For starters, there is the ambient, shimmering joy in "The Morning Watch/A Song of Joys," in which Williamson combines poems by Whitman and Vaughan in a single work, moving from a Celtic droning melody to a recitation of delirious intensity accompanied by Dunmall's improvising horns and rich rhythmic atmospheres by the rest of the band. "Here to Burn" is an original song with quotes from Blake's "Marriage of Heaven and Hell." In the ancient Celtic tradition, Williamson's melody brings forth from the ether of history the very nature of Blake's visionary ranting and singing on the page. "The Four Points Are Thus Beheld," however, is the centerpiece of the album, the hinge on which it turns. With Dunmall's bleating, moaning horn and Williamson's Shakespearan delivery as the band fills in the cracks and crevices with sound so elegantly ragged and true it could have come from a strange dream, the tale from Blake's poem "Jerusalem" becomes a first-person treatise on birth, rebirth, destruction, and transformation that is utterly believable. Kurt Elling could use some of Williamson's gorgeously primitive intonation and cadence displayed on "Dalliance of Eagles," with a stridently textured counterpoint played by Hutton after a band intro. Ultimately it's not about music and/or words, however. Skirting the River Road is about offering a glimpse into the beauty of language as it interacts with itself and other sounds, and of offering the works of the poets and Williamson's own songs as a living, breathing meditation on the continued relevance of the past on the present and in how it haunts your attempts and meaning and trying to destroy it literally and metaphorically. This is not some anachronistic old man's precious little album of quaint songs and recitations, but a dangerous, profound, humorous, and tragic offering of possibility. Williamson offers the possibility to become acquainted with the forgotten, the discarded, the out of time and space, by placing them in contexts that speak to the immediate present with all of its dissonances, contradictions, and unexpected harmonic moments. This is a brilliant album of folk music that has nothing to do with folk music that desires to preserve the past in dead languages. This is folk music that speaks to the "folk" through the languages that are spoken on their margins and whispered in their bedrooms and barrooms all over the English-speaking world. This is the most out jazz record because it is a shining example of what European jazz is capable of expressing when it looks out the window at various cultures and histories that hang lithely on lampposts, in dustbins, in meadows, and in rivers, all about it. ~ Thom Jurek, All Music Guide


Blogger ratatoskyr said...

Great stuff! The review mentioned Williamson's last record, "The Seed-at-Zero." Do you happen to have that one as well?

12 February, 2007 03:45  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for this

have heard the seed at zero and I loved that

13 February, 2007 06:39  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

brilliant, master at work

14 February, 2007 04:17  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good review of a fabulous album. There is a sequel that came out Nov 06 'The Iron Stone' which is also brilliant and again features Maneri and Moller but with legendary Barre Phillips on bass.

21 February, 2007 08:16  
Blogger wee tam said...

Good review of a fabulous album. Williamson released the sequel 'The Iron Stone' in Nov 06. Features Maneri and Moller again, with Barre Phillips on bass. Another cracker.

21 February, 2007 09:08  

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