Clear Frame showcases some of the finest players of the avant-garde of British jazz and improv. Saxophonist Lol Coxhill, Charles Hayward (drummer with pioneering This Heat), Hugh Hopper (Soft Machine) on bass and percussionist Orphy Robinson, with special guest national treasure Robert Wyatt on cornet.
How do you judge improvised music? Firstly, on the tones and techniques of the individual players. Are they original and inventive? Do they make sounds you've never heard before? Secondly, are they listening to each other? Does the whole thing add up to something or is it just...bits?
This album passes both these tests and more. It's a wonderful piece of group improvisation. Hugh Hopper is brilliant throughout, providing little licks, riffs and mutating half melodies, which hold the whole sound together. And when Hopper and Hayward lock into a groove (for example Tin Plate) they're very funky in a deliciously fractured way.
The other outstanding presence is Robinson. He brings a clean, fresh approach to this kind of music, his steel pan and vibraphone playing showing real originality especially when contrasted with bursts of noise and distortion (Noise Gate). The complaint about this set is that at times Robinson is simply not loud enough. Coxhill's sax and Wyatt's cornet squeak and bleat but also combine in sombre, lyrical flurries.
Clear Frame is 52 minutes long but whizzes by. Edgy and atmospheric but never bloated or heavy handed, it's really, really good. Highly recommended.