Sunday, 8 January 2012

Steve Lawson - Believe in Peace review for Alternative Matter magazine

In 1992 guitarist and improviser Derek Bailey described improvisation in music as having the curious distinction of being the most practised of all musical activities whilst at the same time being the least acknowledged and understood. [i] Moreover, Bailey argues that any attempt to describe improvisation must be a misapprehension, for there is, for Bailey, something central to the spirit of voluntary improvisation which is divergent to the aims, and contradicts the essence of documentation. Bearing this in mind it is truly challenging for the reviewer to depict the true spirit of a recorded improvisation, as by its very nature it is a “celebration of the moment”, the music is fleeting and any record after the moment can only serve to recall or anticipate it.
 “Believe in Peace” was improvised in the studio as a result of inspiration from an exhibition in Minneapolis by artist Geoff Bush, and the four long tracks on the album are named after hexagrams which were displayed on the vertical sides of a cube which formed one of the central pieces to the exhibition. The pieces themselves are performed solo using fretless bass through samplers, effects units and processors, to take the listener on a tantalizing journey through the mind of the player and the subconscious of the listener. The first section “The Creative” is built upon layers of intricately created feeling which at no time throughout loses the consideration of the listener, an achievement in spontaneous music in general which should be applauded. “Biting Through”, which follows, is layered through with repetitive motifs, which, hypnotic in nature, coax the listener further into the character of the piece before being startled back to reality with some stately, searing guitar lines. The journey meanders tentatively further on as “Grace” lures the listener into soporific contentment before being shot through again with rude and provocative lines of distorted guitar. The album ends with “Inner Truth” a gentle meandering blanket of warmth and kindness which bubbles intermittently with numerous ethereal sounds and effects, and serves to portray the true essence of what the album has been concerned with all along.
 The four pieces weave effortlessly into each other to form virtually one continuous journey which should be a credit to the craftsmanship and humanity that is palpable throughout “Believe in Peace”. Mere words here cannot convey the complexity of feeling that is aroused by solo improvisation that is based purely on the emotions and instinct of the individual, composing in real time and responding to their own playing in a way that can hold the listener engrossed. The album itself is available as a download from on a “pay what you like” basis with a minimum of £3, to allow a £3 donation to be possible to human rights charity Reprieve. If any album of improvised music will move the willing participant to tears, Steve Lawson’s “Believe in Peace” will.

[i] Bailey ,D (1992) Improvisation: Its Nature and Practice in Music, London: The British National Sound Archive.

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