Alto saxophonist Raymond MacDonald is a founding member of Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra; Gogs aka Gordon Maclean is creative director at AnTobar Arts Centre on Mull. Meeting in Tobermory, one evening in February 2020, they recorded these intense and lyrical duos without prior discussion. The island of Mull – population 3000 – is not known as a centre of free-improv activity, and it could well be that these duos are the finest free improv recorded there.
Raymond MacDonald is probably best known as a free improviser, but he’s played in a wide range of contexts, with Evan Parker, Marilyn Crispell, George Lewis, David Byrne, Jim O’Rourke and George Burt. Gogs Maclean, as bassist, producer and promoter, has worked with many of the major musicians on the contemporary Scottish music scene, focusing on folk more than jazz – but on this release, he comes across as a powerful, intuitive free improviser. His sound on bass is quite an electric, more than wooden one, very effective nonetheless.
The opening track, The Walls Have Ears, Your Ears Have Walls, begins with keening saxophone and reflective bass, becoming more dynamic and intense. Voices Beneath My Street is a haunting duet, in which Maclean sets up a powerful ecstatic groove. Crepuscular features – I assume – arco bass, with MacDonald’s alto smears setting up an eerie atmosphere. The Land Between Love And Fascination is the most abstract, free-improv track, which begins with MacDonald creating toneless sounds on saxophone, and features extended techniques including the key-rattling and circular breathing. A challenging and thoroughly rewarding release.
The Walls Have Ears, Your Ears Have Walls; Voices Beneath My Street; Crepuscular; The Land Between Love And Fascination; Exaggeration Is The Mother Of Invention; The Anagram Sisters (47.00)
MacDonald (as); Gordon “Gogs” Maclean (b). Tobermory, Mull, February 2020.