Ghosts and Splice: Thoughts on the Use of Electronics in Jazz

Tony Dudley-Evans, Birmingham Jazz, June 1, 2011

I have been intrigued by the use of electronics on two albums that I have been listening to a lot recently: Peter Evans Quintet’s Ghosts (on the More is More label) and Splice (on the Loop Collective label) with Alex Bonney, Robin Fincker, Pierre Alexandre Tremblay and Dave Smith.

What really interests me is the difference in use between the use made of the electronics by the two bands. Peter Evans’ group has Sam Pluta on live processing and he is very much part of the band, interacting brilliantly with drummer Jim Black to give a very distinctive rhythmic drive. But Sam also manipulates the acoustic sound and this, particularly when it is done with the trumpet sound, produces some fascinating sounds without interfering with the flow of the music. To be honest, I found I had to listen to the first track, … One to Ninety Two, which has at times quite extensive manipulation of the trumpet sound, quite a few times before I really understood what was going on, but grew to like the track more and more.

The role of Sam Pluta, the Live Processor, as a fully integrated member of the ensemble with the ability to interact with the rest of the group, means that the music has the range and variety of moods that we expect from a jazz performance. I particularly liked Track 5 Chorales which has three quite distinct sections; it starts off with a bebop feel led by Peter on trumpet, then moves into a section which features a kind of minimalist interplay between trumpet and piano before finishing with a section of improvisation between the bass, the drums and the electronics.

Splice seems to be a new and very interesting direction for these leading figures in the London based Loop Collective. Their website states that they aim to blend influences of contemporary jazz, free improv, loud and soft noise, punk grit, ambient music, and more… with seamless blends or blunt juxtapositions. The electronics are a key part of most of the tracks, but play a different role from that of the live processing in Ghosts. They seem to provide a backing and therefore set the mood for the piece. This produces some extremely original and often beautiful passages, but my only complaint is that the dominance of the electronics means that there is less variety of mood on Splice than on Ghosts.

Nonetheless I am sure that this use of electronics is another new direction for contemporary jazz that will be one (but not exclusive) part of the scene.

… this use of electronics is another new direction for contemporary jazz…