Glen Hall,
(Leo, 1999)

The premise is almost so crushingly pretentious as to obscure the wonderful music within this CD: a "sonomontage" (oh yes), a film in sound dedicated to William Burroughs and inspired by two of his lesser-known prose works. It ought to be toe-curlingly contrived, but it isn't; ignore the program notes and what you have here is a fantastic record.

Much of what's here is free-ish jazz, with Roswell Rudd (trombone) playing better than I have heard from him in a long time. With a line-up of little-known musicians, he creates a storming, swinging music. John Gzowski (various stringed instruments) is a fine guitarist, sounding something like Pat Metheny on the odd occasion when Metheny plays free jazz and really cooks it up (as he does with Ornette compositions, for example); Glen Hall (reeds, electronics, voice) can really do that gutbucket tenor thing which may not be very sophisticated but certainly does the job.

Others appearing on the album are Nilan Perara (guitar), John Lennard (drums), Rob Clutton (bass), Barry Elmes (drums), Georgie McDonald (percussion), Allan Molnar (vibes, marimba, tapes), Kim Ratcliff (guitars, banjo) and Don Thompson (bass, piano).

These tracks are placed in a very odd ambience, which seems to refer to the radio theme which one finds repeatedly in Burroughs's work. Hall's production here is utterly unique and masterful; a homage to the otherworldly world of long- and shortwave radio in which, somewhow, the instruments sound wonderfully lush. Anyone who has played idly with a radio will know how evocative the more distant channels can sound; this disk manages to capture that without at all compromising the clarity of the music.

This radio-influenced conception is carried over into some of the less jazzy pieces here, too. As well as radio sounds, Hall also includes spoken passages which further contribute to the feeling of a broadcast. The texts are all by Hall, with the exception of a very short interview segment from Burroughs himself, and they are so close to Burroughs's own style that they could only be deferential imitations. His own voice is treated by slowing it down, while singer Judith Merrill appears on only one short track, her voice subjected to some kind of flanging effect.

Hall does have a tendency to forget what a funny writer Burroughs was, and focus rather earnestly on his pursuit of alternate states of mind, as "A Few Questions for CONTROL" demonstrates, but his words aren't embarrassingly bad and the music is so utterly captivating that one would forgive him almost anything anyway. This is one of those records which you want to play again and again. Highly recommended.

[ by Richard Cochrane ]

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