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21 August 2011

Lol Coxhill - 'Ear of Beholder' (Dandelion/Ampex)

Ear of Beholder is one of those magical artefacts that is delightful from start to finish, though I don't make myself listen to it enough. Coxhill's a great saxophonist and his personality shines through every second of this, whether he's blowing his horn or speaking affably to the listener. Though it's only 3 of the 21 tracks on Ear of Beholder, the songs where Lol sings with David Bedford accompanying him on piano and backing vocals are stunning - their impact on the album is huge. Midway through side 1, after we've been treated to two fantastic live saxophone improvisations (all of which have a lot of great outdoors noise in the background, and 'Deviation Dance' has a great, gritty fidelity), we encounter the first of these songs. 'Two Little Pigeons' is sweet and sort of romantic, having that old-timey feel but fragmented through a London avant-garde of the late 1960's. And 'Don Alfonso' (who works at Oxo) is a bit of sillyness but it balances well and serves to break up what would otherwise be a whole side of saxophone solos. Not that I don't like the sax solos - I wouldn't own so many Lol Coxhill LPs if I didn't - but that these show a humour, versatility and eclecticism that is iconoclastic in the often po-faced UK improv scene. Coxhill's playing is deft; bluesy and swinging when it needs to be, and generally much more human than other UK musicians like Evan Parker. His mastery is felt but he's not beating you over the head with it. But that's just side 1! Side two goes for the documentary feel; 'Feedback' being a noisy dictaphone recording that is aptly namee, and then a larger band ensemble that features Mike Oldfield, though the fidelity is no better. It's got a similar feel to some of those chunky Arbete & Fritid instrumentals, though not quite as woodsy. We encounter a children's choir on 'Mango Walk', and the theme of innocent voices is returned to in side four's cover of 'I Am the Walrus' (though accompanied by Lol's flute and maraccas). Side three is a long piece, 'Rasa Moods', perhaps the most traditional "improv" here, though it also features some strange readings and has that same distant fidelity that characterises the moments with Oldfield on side two. The record's last side is like a mirror of the first one - more solo improvisations, another piano song with Bedford (the edgy 'Dat's why darkies were born' (presented in context, via spoken introduction), and a rocking jam 'The Rhytmic Hooter'. This is a monster of a debut album and it's iconoclastic, political, exploratory, diverse and accessible all at once - which is more than most artists could even dream of achieving in a long career.

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