Displacement Ritual (2022)

A restless ceremonial jazz journey, exploring physical, emotional & psychic displacement. Moods shift in fluid ripples or jagged left-turns, dreamlike, coiling and slithering through moments of harmonic repose, fragmentary riffing and freeform dissonance.

Initially recorded over a couple of days, in the thick of a very difficult & distressing house-move, and developed around one meandering hour-long cello bass improvisation. Time was limited, so the recording process was one of immediacy, collecting raw ideas added in spontaneous response to each new metamorphosis of the bass. These raw ingredients were then brewed in the lab over many days of meticulous sculpting, to form an unsettled but cohesive whole with an exploratory jazz flavour.

Perhaps ironically in keeping with the theme of Displacement, after completing this first edit, all the original track files were lost to the digital abyss, preventing me from any further tweaking. The state of Displacement has a way of forcing you to accept what is, whether you want to or not…

Recorded during the same two-month period as Floater and Kalonga, Displacement Ritual continued my process of trying to cope creatively with moving house – or more to the point, ‘moving life’.

While all three albums were created in a state of immediacy, I gave more compositional attention to Displacement Ritual as I recorded its layers, and also in the editing / sculpting phase.

For all its unrefined, lo-fi free-rangery, I hope people can listen to this recording with jazz ears – as much as I hope people can experience it as texture and movement of particles, or the flow of colour in a passing landscape. The music doesn’t stay still for long, shapeshifts and twists in & out of itself. It was born of Displacement, and its shapes never quite fit anywhere; its edges keep bumping into each other. Each time a musical idea stretches into a new shape, it encounters a boundary of momentary dissonance, a kind of force-field, and once penetrated, settles into a place of harmony for a time, until we are forced to move on once again.

In thinking of this music as describing a ritual, I imagine ceremonial dancers, wrapped in night, flickering in the fire’s glow, dancing out the dissonance of Displacement. A state without anchor, without agency, of being forced by circumstance into foreign territory – literally or figuratively. Displacement is to have the ground taken from beneath your feet. Familiar identities are dismantled, you can’t know yourself in any usual contexts. When you are forced into ‘placelessness’, the only thing you can control or choose is your response to the moment, however it presents itself.

The initial recording kind of splattered itself across two of the final days I spent at our previous house, Kalonga. Time was tight, and I had to work quickly & spontaneously.   The backbone of the process was an extended improvisation on cello bass; I left the recording running and played continuously for an hour or so, snippets of ideas, wherever an impulse took me. There were plenty of accidents, both happy and miserable, but I just wanted to gather as much raw musical data as I could in order to collage together the ‘best’ bits later (‘best’ being a somewhat subjective metric).

Rather than slicing out small samples of ‘best bits’ and creating loops with them, I wanted to keep this improvisation as intact as I could, to stay authentic to its progression in realtime. Mainly I edited out intrusive environmental noise and a few pauses in the playing.

I liked listening to the recording in its complete, meandering state, hearing the natural evolution of each new idea in process, from its first stammerings to its eventual formfinding. As I listened to the bass track, if a particular riff or rhythm took my interest, I improvised percussion or other layers over that section, until the bass moved to another spot.

Its been many years since I’ve done any singing in my music, but I had the impulse to try some here. I tried singing words at first, but words can too quickly imply ‘meaning’ and intrude on an otherwise open experience. Instead I approached my vocals as a melodic texture. I just jumped in and sang to the music as it writhed around. My full attention was to impulse, I let my voice unconsciously bend into odd places, sidestepping predictable notes or harmonies. Later I made multiples of the vocal track and gave each a different pitch, which I liked for its strangely ethereal, Otherworldly quality. I’m sure there are moments that will offend some ears, but for me it adds another articulation of Displacement.

The other main instrumentation includes Nigerian talking drum, kemenche (Turkish fiddle) and kalimba, all of which I feel add a slightly ‘afrojazz’ flavour – a certain organic warmth amidst the abstractions. This is enhanced by samples of my friend Malcolm Martin’s trumpet and trombone improvisation, taken from 2020’s Echo Location recordings (and cannibalised on many other of my albums).  Not to be confused with the tenor sax lines, which are me playing a digital sample instrument on my laptop, as are the moments of piano.

The layers of kemenche are intended as texture more than melody. While I’ve managed to strangle some decent melodies out of the instrument on some previous recordings, it will be apparent that I am not a kemenche player. Had my files not been swallowed by the Monster of the Digital Deep, I would have edited this instrument differently; but as it stands, it provides a kind of abrasive and discordian balance, not to mention a touch of Avant-hillbilly (if you squint in a certain light).

The kalimba is recognisable in some places, and provides a sweeter voice; in other places I’ve manipulated the sound for more electronic colour.

Taking a lateral jazz-thinking approach to any layers I added, I wasn’t too concerned with keeping things in key, because I wanted to stay open to unexpected intersections, as I generally do in my sound-collaging. But overall I still wanted a sense of musical cohesion in the journey, which I feel I accomplished.

The mesmerising abstraction on the cover is a detail from a photo my daughter took. I felt its dark warmth and indistinct forms suited the album’s own mercurial mysteries.