Move Records MD 3423
I don’t know what to make of this disc. It consists of 7 tracks, improvisations for flute, synthesiser, high-pitched bells with Peter Neville contributing the occasional gong-induced sound. Obviously, it is a labour of love for Jones, who has recorded another CD along these lines: Sun Down Moon Up which dates from 2008. In broad terms, this is ambient music, not made for analysis but for an uncritical mind to indulge in its soporific progress. What seems to be happening is that Jones uses the synthesiser as a mood-setting with the percussion employed to vary the backdrop while the flute (concert and alto on one track) plays its calm meditations on top.
The player/composer aims ‘to bring particular ‘experiences and thoughts into sound and to express inner feelings through the form of musical sound scapes’. And that’s fine, as long as you are prepared to accept that music can do that. Some of us are incapable of accepting that Jones can realise these aspirations. ‘For I consider that music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all, whether a feeling, an attitude of mind, a psychological mood, a phenomenon of nature, etc.’ Thus spake Stravinsky in 1936, before he enjoyed the inestimable gift of being intellectually and linguistically filtered by Robert Craft. But he was right then and, to my mind, remains so.
Of course, you can go along with any composer and swallow entirely what (s)he says (s)he is telling you, although words are the only sure method by which you can be sure of the relevance of what you are hearing to the composer’s stated intentions; you don’t believe in Till’s execution unless you know that Strauss wants you to picture the scene; but you’d be ready to believe in Cavaradossi’s despair because he tells you about it. Without verbal or written direction, we all flounder to attach specific emotional interpretations to music.
Jones begins his spiritual odyssey with Journey to Serenity – an attempt ‘to show the place of arrival where one experiences a great sense of unity and tranquillity.’ The flute enters over a soft synthesizer background centred around B flat Major; the chords change slowly, so the solo line has space to curvet and meander around a pretty limited set of notes although Jones uses a pretty full instrumental compass. It’s somehow reminiscent of The Lark Ascending but without the broad, open spaciousness of that tone-poem’s development. It also serves as a kind of Occidental take on Eastern meditation music; nothing is happening to engage the musical intellect but your aural sense is bathed in an amiable sonorous sequence that is devoid of events. After not too long a time you can almost predict the harmonic shifts – which, I’m afraid, lowered my interest/involvement level even further.
Jones pairs Journey to Serenity with the CD’s last track, Blue Star, which is presented as ‘lighting up our path towards the final goal and destination’. The melodic path shows a more adventurous edge here and the synthesizer suggests a subdued choral texture rather than strings. Also adding some textural interest is what sounds like Peter Neville stroking a gong around its edge with a stick, although the effect is subject to some modification so it’s hard to discern the true nature of this complementary colour. At all events, the musical path wanders across quite a few concordant sequences before concluding in a quiet B minor.
The second track, Violet Rays, starts out with a synthesizer version of the Gregorian chant, Pange lingua gloriosi, stated fairly plainly. When Jones’ flute enters, it takes off on a path that I can’t reconcile with the chant which emerges again on the synthesizer just before the 3 minute mark. The ambition here is cosmic; an ‘observation of the human condition.’ The chant emerges once more en clair on the synthesizer but the flute’s slow-moving melismata add little to my differentiation between ‘the good and dark qualities being played out in the world’. The Pange returns for the last time while the flute concludes with a C sharp minor triad. It’s hard to draw a link between Aquinas’ hymn celebrating the Eucharist with the piece’s philosophical intent, but that’s not to say there isn’t one.
Meditation and Distant Bells, the third and sixth improvisations, share a common platform: the visualization of musicians ‘improvising in an ethereal space’ – an image that is quite attractively presented, even if the flute is the only real line that does much. In Meditation, the synthesizer provides a B drone and some intermittent sounds suggestive of a sitar add another element of a rising or falling 2nd to the mix. Distant Bells opens with more of the sitar-like sounds (which by now are sounding like plucked piano strings) before the flute enters. Some bells add a fetching colour to the familiar drone backdrop. In fact, this piece is more definitely ordered in its shape, along the lines of a short-versicle long-response pattern. Sadly, my attention was wandering into irrelevant regions by the end, which bore an unfortunate similarity to the five-note motif that dominates the climax of Spielberg’s film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
To Bliss commemorates the flautist/composer’s experience of his father’s death nine years ago and fuses an alto flute line with the concert flute, signifying a conversation between father and son. Distant high bells give a piquant edge to the dialogue. The disc’s shortest track, it is easily the most effective and affecting: an eloquent in memoriam that leads to a consolatory F Major optimistic ending.
Finally, Night Sky comes with more lofty aims – ‘to show the tendency to feel the sense of separation in our human condition, and our need and yearning to find our true place in this world.’ Jones writes that this piece is based on the hymn tune Forty Days and Forty Nights and you can perceive its elements off and on in the flute line, while fragments emerge in the soft choral-reminiscent synthesizer backing. This is demonstrably nocturnal music, in terms of its projected mood – but you could say much the same about most of the album’s content.
While I find it hard to come to terms with the propositions that underpin Jones’ improvisations, the player’s command of register and articulation is admirable. His transitions from middle to high ranges cannot be faulted and, if the music itself follows a conservative, if not diatonic path for much of the time, the actual sound of flute and synthesizer in partnership is vivid and sensitively recorded. It’s not my cup of tea, but it could be yours.