Friday 13 August 2021

Its wild energy cannot but move: Alex Paxton's Music for Bosch People

Alex Paxton Music for Bosch People; Birmingham Record Company

Alex Paxton Music for Bosch People; Birmingham Record Company

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 10 August 2021
Music of surprising energy, complexity and wildness from improvising trombonist and composer Alex Paxton

Alex Paxton is an improvising trombonist and composer, his music is on the recent LSO Panufnik Composers disc from NMC [see my review], but on this disc Music for Bosch People from Birmingham Record Company (distributed by NMC) Paxton directs a mixed ensemble in a full programme of his music. The longest track is the title track, Music for Bosch People and alongside this there are six other smaller pieces, with performances from Paxton (trombone) along with Christine Buras soprano, Harriet Burns soprano, Mike De Souza electric guitar, Alyson Frazier piccolo, Matthew Herd saxophone, David Ingamells drum kit, Felix Josza electric guitar, Rob Luft electric guitar, Emma Purslow violin & viola, and David Zucchi saxophone.

Paxton refers to the pieces on the discs as Dream Musics, though quite clearly his dreams are rather more fevered than mine.  His rather stream of consciousness string of antitheses provides a fine introduction, 'Like minimal but loads more notes like video-games but with more song like jazz but much more gay like old music but more current like yummy sweet but more stick like paint but more scratch like tapestry but filthily like prayer but more loud like loud groove and more rude like fingers and faces too but somehow more smelly like smelly things cooking with more chew and change like louder prayers that groove with like stinking-hot-pink in poo-brown but even more desperate-like than that like drums and Dream Musics'

Paxton refers to Music for Bosch People as 'the most dense piece I'd written up to that point', it is a 15 minute high-energy collage where sounds, rhythms and improvisations jostle with each other for our attention.

The fundamental structure is overlaid with so many collage elements that the result is indeed dense, but the energy and imagination never wavers. Yet it seems to feature just trombone, drum-kit, saxophones, electric guitars and electronics. The connection to Bosch is loose, rather than direct, but the music has the same sort of anarchic feel as one of Bosch's paintings as well as the density of incident. Paxton says of the piece 'I'm trying to capture lots of things like children and laughter, joy and sex and diversity of thought and creation. I'm trying to make music that is joyful and exciting but has violent aspects as well mixed in.' There is an anarchism to this music which probably belies the detail with which Paxton constructs his pieces. You might not love this music, but its wild energy cannot but move.

Much of Paxton's art involves improvisation but it is not all free-love, he says that he "writes everything from a very centred 'I'm the composer' mentality where everything is planned/decided, with 'bubbles' for improvisation". Quite what this sounds like comes over on the second track, LONDONGLUM which is technically bravura four and a half minute trombone improvisation, just Paxton, his trombone and his voice (sometimes combining all of them). Quite amazing.

The final group of works, Prayer with Night Pictures, Prayer with Strings and Joan Rivers, Prayer in the Darkness, Prayer like I know and Prayer like Hot Pink, were all made by piling up improvisations in layers. Then, Paxton took the improvisations and wrote music over them in further layers,  and the result was written out for live band of drums, saxophones, guitar and trombone, with some electronic and tape elements. The results, again, have the hi-energy collage feel of Music for Bosch People, free-jazz, improvisation, Baroque, big-band and popular elements jostling against each other, creating some remarkable textures. 

The disc brings together an amazing array of performing talent in a series of seven vivid tracks where the wildness, energy, imagination, anarchism and sheer complexity of construction leap off the page. And Paxton not only wrote the music and performed on the disc, he designed the cover and mixed the tracks.

Alex Paxton (born 1990)
1 Music for Bosch People (15:39)
3 Prayer with Night Pictures (2:52)
4 Prayer with Strings and Joan Rivers (5:34)
5 Prayer in the Darkness (7:01)
6 Prayer Like I Know (4:06)
7 Prayer Like Hot Pink (3:06)
Alex Paxton trombones, leader, Christine Buras soprano, Harriet Burns soprano, Mike De Souza electric guitar, Alyson Frazier piccolo, Matthew Herd saxophone, David Ingamells drum kit, Felix Josza electric guitar, Rob Luft electric guitar, Emma Purslow violin & viola, David Zucchi saxophone
Recorded at Residence Studios
Available from NMC

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