Situated in New Cross, South London, Goldsmiths' College is part of the University of London and has a reputation for producing creative graduates in a range of subjects. Visual artists Lucien Freud, Bridget Riley and Damien Hirst all studied there. Among musicians, the college's alumni include such notables as John Cale, Linton Kwesi Johnson and three-quarters of Blur (Albarn, Coxon & James). In recent years, the college has increasingly acquired a reputation for musical exploration and experimentation, partly due to the presence on its teaching staff of pianists John Tilbury and Dave Smith, plus its regular hosting of concerts of contemporary compositions and improvised music. All of which makes it fitting that this CD release is titled after the college where it was recorded, in August 2015.
There are plenty of connections binding together the musicians on the recording, and the list of their names is enough to whet the appetite for the music itself. The list is dominated by Tilbury on piano who was in a well-established trio with Welsh harpist Rhodri Davies and Norwegian bassist Michael Duch, the three having recorded the excellent Cornelius Cardew Works 1960-70 (+3dB Records, 2010), and played a trio concert the day before this recording. The harpist's sister, violinist Angharad, was in a duo with the classically-trained Lithuanian violinist Lina Lapelyte. The line-up was completed by John Lely, on objects, electronics and melodica, a former student at Goldsmiths who had studied with Tilbury. "First Page for Five", a piece by Lely, is one of three compositions performed by the six players, the others being the exotically-titled "A Reward is Given for the Best Inframammary Fold No. 4" by Sarah Hughes and "Circular Music no. 6" by Jürg Frey.
The Hughes and Lely compositions have similar structures, with the strings and electronics creating appealingly full, rich soundscapes. On the Hughes piece, Tilbury adds his own trademark, an economical use of arpeggios that fit in perfectly with the rest but repeatedly bubble to the surface and command attention. The album successfully blurs the boundary between composed and improvised music; the most successful track is also its longest, at just under twenty minutes, "Goldsmiths Improvisation, 31.08.15", a group improvisation that fits in seamlessly among the compositions without breaking the album's flow.
Throughout, Duch's bass solidly underpins the ensemble passages and provides occasional rumbling climaxes. In some ways it seems remiss to single Duch out, as all six musicians contribute to the group's sound, and the music would be poorer without any one of them. The album closes atmospherically with the understated Frey piece, which pairs a textural landscape of scraped sounds and hisses with similarly restrained vocals from Lapelyte. It is a fitting way to conclude an album that seems certain to stand the test of time and improve with age.
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