Ron Caines / Martin Archer Axis: Blutopia

In a largely avant-garde setting, one player, drummer Johnny Hunter, hints at something close to a rarefied strain of swing

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To the best of my knowledge this is the third album by the Caines / Archer Axis, and if memory serves I’ve now reviewed all three of them for this site. Over the course of those albums the line-up has largely been settled, but the music has remained fresh. The music also belies the apparently slightly painstaking way in which it was put together, with musicians making their contributions “after the facts” of the basic tracks.

The solo Caines required no such work, and on something like Bell (on alto sax) he evokes the spirit of Marion Brown, in terms of slightly fractious lyricism, and of Peter Brotzmann. This is not to suggest that Caines has no vocabulary of his own; indeed, in the following Hunting Horns he adapts to a group setting without compromising his identity.

For all of its titular evocation Ornette’s Leap has character to spare and only alludes to Coleman in passing. Chris Sharkey’s guitar supplies angular accompaniment for Caine (on alto again) while in places Hunter hints at something close to a rarefied strain of swing.

Ancient & Modern is by no small distance the longest piece on the album and turns out to be something quite other than a blowing vehicle. The ensemble passages are spikily fraught, but these are punctuated by quite lyrical passages where the music defies expectations and serves high notice of how the line between composition and improvisation can be blurred; it seems to sidestep obvious precedents and stake out its own defined space.

Discography
Street Drums; Glyphx; Bell; Hunting Horns; Acrylic; Ornette’s Leap; Reverie; Ancient & Modern; Pale Alto; Parole; Random; Portland; Morocco Rose; Blutopia; Marceel; Spike Island; Pepper Spray (71.57)
Charlotte Keefe (t); Caines (ss, as, ts); Archer (sps, bs, cl, f); Graham Clark (vn); Laura Cole (p); Chris Sharkey (elg); Gus Garside (b); Johnny Hunter (d). Church Road Studio, Brighton, Discus Music Studio and the moors above Airedale, UK, 2022-2023.
Discus 152CD