THE SEALED KNOT: Live at The Red Hedgehog - REVIEWS

As The Sealed Knot is an occasional group, convening for one-off performances or short tours at far from regular intervals, it's perhaps inevitable that every time the musicians meet they bring something new to the mix, something they've been working on individually. That's the case with their latest release, recorded in late October 2006 at The Red Hedgehog, a North London venue which mainly programmes 19th century chamber music. The trio's previous release, a 2004 studio recording disarmingly titled Unwanted Object, featured trancelike ostinatos and loosely patterned repetitions that sounded like nothing so much as systems music in the early stages of dreaming itself into being. On first listen it seemed somewhat different in nature from the predominantly textural play that characterised the group's two earlier CDs, but tonal play and rhythm had always been a part of their music, it's just that on Unwanted Object they were given greater emphasis.
On the Red Hedgehog performance, as with Unwanted Object, Mark Wastell plays double bass, the instrument on which he began his musical career. The bass bottoms out the sound and its sonorities resonate nicely with the larger drums in Burkhard Beins's kit. Rhodri Davies extensive harp preparations offer a gamut of sounds including quasi-gamelan percussiveness and long tones generated by eBowed strings. Drama is established from the outset by fierce arco playing on the double bass, and even when the music speaks in whispers there's urgency and an underlying tension. Unlike most groups, whose early work is by far the best, The Sealed Knot is developing as a group and finding new musical strategies, and David Reid's recording has captured them in striking detail.
- Brian Marley, The Wire -

I found myself thinking of the "supergroups" of my misspent youth - Emerson, Lake and Palmer; Blind Faith; Last Exit (mildly kidding about that one...). But Sealed Knot is indeed made up of three musicians for whose creations I've had an enormous affinity these last few years and their integration into a functioning trio is next to impossible for me to experience with anything other than delight. This is a live date from October, 2006 at a joint called The Red Hedgehog, two tracks. Wastell is on double bass here, Davies and Beins on their regular axes. I'm not at all sure any blow by blow description would be of much value but suffice it to say that much of the material encountered in this concert is more viscerally propulsive than you might expect, Wastell in particular sawing away at his bass with calculated abandon. This is of course not to say that there's anything of a pyrotechnical nature involved; when the first piece subsides from the initial fury, the delicate placement of bongs, whirrs and muffled thuds is exquisite enough to cause one to hold one's breath. Later in the same cut, closing out the improvisation, the brutal grinding of some kind of cords being bowed by Beins (? guessing) contrasting with Wastell's deep, deep arco and Davies' angelically high hum is just too good. The slow, loose cadence that opens the second piece evokes a slightly ritualistic nature, not so dissimilar to that heard on Wastell's recent "Amoungst English Men". That rhythmic kernel gets batted around for a good while, assuming a variety of guises until, once again, a surprisingly forceful little storm develops, looming in off the sea before it crashes against the cliff sides. Once again, Davies' keening tones are absolutely shiver-inducing, beautifully placed among the rougher surroundings. A crude, bell-like beat emerges, a tocsin sounding before a return to the initial processional. A wondrous performance. Better than "Tarkus"!
- Brian Olewnick, Bagatellen -

The Sealed Knot are Burkhard Beins (percussion), Rhodri Davies (harp) and Mark Wastell (double bass), in this occasion recorded live at the Red Hedgehog in London, 2006. No economy of energy is applied in the first minutes: Wastell's rumbling statements and Davies' malignantly piercing, fibrotic vibrations continue until Beins starts swiping and bouncing all over his set, the trio stopping to contemplate what was generated while dropping single plucks and intravenous harmonics, necessary to keep the flame alive. Sounds flow without compromising to any silent rule, like if an inner stopwatch decided when the time is right for a change of scenario. An example is the gorgeous ceremonial fragment unfolding around the 13/15 minute mark, where we're tied by a single scope, guided by a bright light that makes no distinction between timbres, allowing us to concentrate on the gathering and release of our dynamic provisions until the intensity grows up almost to David Jackman-like levels. The second set starts with a distinct percussive character, an attractive cross of gamelan-tinged nuances and belltowerish intersections, Davies' harp strings gorgeously deformed in their ectoplasmic appearance. Here, the players seem to look for any reason to coalesce into a single eruption of endless activity, only to return to those silences where they dip their essence any moment in which necessity calls. The psychological impact of this music is quite strong: every little shade seems to affect our reality until a sense of accomplishment is reached. Everything in this performance reminds us that playing EAI requires concentration and heart, two elements that are also major factors in our reaction to this kind of material, which must be received with completely open channels in order for it to acquire weight in the consciousness. This is not music to remember for "how it sounds", but because it can make a single big vibration of yourselves. Indeed, when the record ends after a final call-and-response game between the members of the trio, one feels ready to go out running under the cold rain, naked yet invulnerable.
- Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes -

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