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The world turns. The pendulum swings. Night gives way to day. Good stuff comes out of bad situations. Good situations turn sour and cynical. There may be something in our brains, or maybe there is just something out there in ‘the real’ that makes us think in terms of oppositions, cycles, balances, pairs, light and dark twins. This is what we call ‘dualist’ thinking. There is a God and there is a Devil. There is matter and there is spirit. Another version of dualist thinking is more obviously tailor-made for orthodoxy. For musical dogmatists, the kind of people who only listen to one kind of stuff and dismiss the rest, there is a jazz and there is not-jazz, or heavy metal and soggy rubbish, or ‘pure’ folk and hopelessly compromised commercial music. For those who regard cultural dogma with suspicion, these distinctions don’t seem to matter.
Someone asked me the other day what Plaistow’s music ‘was’. I’m not usually lost for a word but I had to pass on this one. Jazz is very much at the heart of it, and with Citadelle jazz has come through with a new and growing authority, but there are other things going on as well, procedures that come from electronica (even if the specific sounds do not), from the neo-tonality of contemporary classical music (whether the guys consciously listen to these composers or not) and from a huge reservoir of central European vernaculars, where the musical cultures of East and West collide on a daily basis, on the radio, on television commercials, on piped music in bars, on ringtones.
The very best thing about fast food (apart from creating spaces where you can both taste and hear all that crazy syncretistic stuff going on) is that it has also, inevitably, spawned a slow food movement. The very best thing about Easy Listening is that adds a new and different value to not-so-easy listening. Plaistow play not-so-easy music. The harmonies on Citadelle are not Bill Evans harmonies. The bass lead on ‘Chicago’ is more reminiscent of the Paul Bley group of the early 70s, with Kent Carter, and there is an angularity to the piano playing that points away from Evans’s lonely romanticism. Johann Bourquenez says he thought Lacrimosa, the group’s previous album, was the first to be conceived ‘without too much randomness’. It’s an interesting choice of word and slightly enigmatic. He will put his own construction on it, but for me this is a record that is very much more than a collection of tracks. It has direction, trajectory, what the philosophers call ‘intentionality’. It seems to be going somewhere and somewhere definite.
‘Randomness’ is the heat-death that awaits free music performed without absolute concentration and fellow-feeling. Machine-tooled predictability is the fate that awaits music played with too much control. Like The Necks, who they somewhat resemble, Plaistow always manage to create a music whose repetitions and (algo)rhythmic structures generate surprise rather than ennui. Who would have expected ‘Dub Step’ from them? What a consummately clever appropriation of a genre whose usual procedures are a million miles from piano trio jazz!
There’s no obvious narrative to this music. It has the abstract beauty of that glorious, ambiguous swirl on the cover, which might be a chrysanthemum or the trace of some mysterious fractal from the microscopic world, or might be feather. I wondered if ‘EOTW’ referred to ‘End of the World’, in which case that piece has a quietly reassuring quality. It suggests that the ‘post-apocalyptic’ might not be so scary after all, just a quiet throb of rays and dying echos. And at the end of the process – ce qu’il reste a dire – what is there left to say? Simply that this is among the most exciting groups around just now, a unit that can comfortably work with a rapper (and just as comfortably decide that the outcome, while fascinating, doesn’t belong here except as a ghost track), or incorporate dubstep, or a sequence that might hint at Olivier Messiaen (and it isn’t on ‘Oiseau’, either), and that has the confidence to realise that sudden, dramatic stylistic change is more often a sign of creative insecurity than of creative abandon. Plaistow evolves. Its music evolves. Your hearing of it will evolve, from record to record, from track to track, from moment to moment within a tracks. A citadel is a fortress within a city, a place of safety for the citizenry. Plaistow are not defending a position, though. They are merely content, for the moment, to work within the strong walls of harmony, mass, slowly accreting rhythm. Here more than ever, they make Plaistow music.
- Brian Morton, april 2013
recorded & mixed by Renaud Millet-Lacombe, Fribourg & Genève
mastered by Philippe Teissier Du Cros, Paris
artwork by Nicolas Berger, Berlin
videos by Janice Siegrist, Genève
photos by Raphaëlle Mueller, Genève
released by Two Gentlemen Records, Lausanne – april 12th, 2013