african music drums improvisation jazz percussion prepared piano review tuned percussion

Bex Burch – There is only love and fear Review

A xylophone maestro takes on collaborative improvisation on a record label road trip.

What does Bex Burch sound like?

Tuned percussion, crazy rhythms and one hell of a xylophone being put into unusual situations.

The review of Bex Burch – There is only love and fear

When you are a composer, a percussionist and an instrument creator it must be very difficult to know how to craft an album. How do you define a genre of something where often you are the spine of a song and not the skin? Bex Burch decided that for her debut album, she’d take to various unconventional recording places. Why not bring along some friends and her hand-made xylophone and see if friends, plonks and field recordings can bind a theme together?

Bex Burch – photo by Fabian Brennecke

The idea for the album was that Bex met all her collaborators moments before recording their sessions. They’d then create their music, recorded as live, and see what happens. The album starts off with ‘Dawn blessings’ which lets the xylophones’ deep resonance shine as light drums and strings wrap around it. It is rhythmic, almost jazzy but tethered to a melody. ‘If I was you I’d be doing exactly the same’ is not tethered to anything. It’s a strange, difficult and clunky five-minute breath work and raspy trumpet piece that takes far too long to reach an all too short melodic climax. Think abstract cartoon comedy brassy soundtracks from 1930 and you are part way there. It is a very difficult first ten minutes.

‘Don’t go back to sleep’ merges the xylophone with synth harp and bird song for a melodic breather. It isn’t a polyrhythm but it reminds me of an African campfire song to keep rhythm whilst working. We transition into rustic percussion with playful cymbals, clippity clopping hooves and the guts of the inside of a piano next. ‘Fruit smoothie with peanut butter’ sounds like Hauschka was let loose in a percussion playground. ‘Pardieu’ continues this with a prepared piano full of sass and swing. Like a tin marching band crossed Elylyn Glennie, add in some flute and whistles and you have a Senegalian dream by the time the other drums join in. Bex’s xylophone is ever-present throughout the album. In a playful interlude ‘Start before you’re ready’ places it against traffic and rain.

One curious thing about this album is how each track blends into the next. As the rain fades, we move into the celebratory Afro-Caribbean joy of a full band effort. ‘You thought you were free?’ is a snazzy, bright, colourful and wide-awake high point. ‘Joy is not meant to be a crumb’ then plays with jazzy tripping rhythms, prepared piano and glassy cow bells. Its purposely off-kilter delivery brings big circus and comedy vibes. ‘On Falling’ then takes water droplets over freeform piano. Yes, the tracks blend one into the other but thematically, it’s an absolute whirlwind. This continues across the final three tracks including a voice and shaker track and a bombastic drum and xylophone jam that literally splashes into the sea.

Helping me try to understand the album, a short documentary was made. Bex Burch explains it far better than I do. “Messy minimalism. Space and repetition as well as an aspect of chaos and something I’m not in control of.” There is a theme of love and the fear of letting go of that chaos and control. Have I quite understood it? No. This is going to take a lot of time to sit with me. That said there are moments of beauty, joy and explosive charm peppered throughout that I think I can use as hooks to hang my ears and brain from. If you enjoy the art of jazz improvisation – I think Bex Burch has something unique for you to enjoy. The rest of us I think can attempt to break through the boundaries this album has no regard for over time.

Recommended track: Pardieu

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Bex Burch - There is only love and fear



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