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Jack Wright & Bob Marsh - Birds in the Hand
CD (Boulder, CO / San Francisco, CA)



-birds in the hand
-plight of the mocking birds
-magpie pie
-when pigs fly
-double-fisted cat-napper
-tweet-tweet, twitter-twitter-squawk




Recorded 6/2000& 5/2002

Reviews:
(Touching Extremes) Nothing more, nothing less: "Birds in the hand" is a stern - but at the same time pretty humorous - example of absolute freedom in improvising; through saxes, clarinet, cello, violin and processed vocals, the two friends always find a way to entertain and going for the listener's throat, all the while keeping a wry smile on their face. They don't care about being all the rage, Marsh and Wright just take out their instruments and ride you around, looking for that spot in your stomach that will be promptly occupied by their funny lines, raucous dissonances, crazy dialogues. Jack and Bob mop the floor with a lot of so-called "names" but they keep you unaware of that, their only apparent goal having a lot of fun with themselves and the world. Nevertheless, the music is damn difficult - and quite amazing. - Massimo Ricci

(Fakejazz no. 39) Though Public Eyesore is best known as a CDR label, proprietor Bryan Day has recently begun to issue releases on LP and CD, with this disc of improvised duets between saxophonist Jack Wright and cellist Bob Marsh representing one of the label's first forays into jewel-cased, factory-manufactured CDs. Wright and Marsh have a long history of playing together, though, due to a move, it's become harder to bring the two together. For this reason, Birds in the Hand is recorded mainly live, split between the SFALT Festival in Oakland and a live performance in Seattle. The disc contains frantic, scuttling improv pieces made up of small fragments of sound and layered with processed vocals by Marsh. Wright's playing, whether on sax or clarinet, is rarely more than a sputtering series of breathy expulsions of sound, choked-off blowing, and thin whines. Marsh alternates between light plucking and strumming of his cello and short bursts of bowing. His vocals, manipulated electronically into a sort of whimsical stuttering and mumbling, tend to stay in the back of the mix, which works well since they're the duo's weakest musical technique. Wright and Marsh share a well-developed sense of musical communication, and there's a degree to which Birds in the Hand sounds almost like a conversation, with a comment and response dialogue discernable in some of their playing. Even when the two play at once and go in seemingly different directions, there's a strong sense of unity in the music, and very little that seems awkward or errant. Working together since 1986 seems to have resulted in a rich collaborative relationship, and it's hard not to hope that Birds in the Hand isn't the last we'll see of their work together. - Adam Strohm

(Chain D.L.K.) A beautiful impro jazz tour-de-force from this experienced duo. Playing together since 1986, Jack Wright (alto & soprano saxophone, contra-alto clarinet) and Bob Marsh (cello, violin and processed voice) really convey how theirs is an "improvisational music that reflects and celebrates the mutual dependence of the players", to quote the liner notes. There's an almost physical feel of strict interplay between the instruments, though in a realm of sonic cubism, with broken lines, abrupt changes and jigsaw dialogues; and the key word must be joy, the joy of creative jamming bewteen two long-time friends. Something claerly audible even if you're not a jazz expert. - Eugenio Maggi

(Improvijazzation Nation no. 63) If you've never listened to our friends Jack & Bob before, you won't realize just how much the prove the axiom 'bout "birds of a feather"... in this musical excursion, they definitely "flock together"... bending, twisting, turning... evermore into the ether they fly, turning "tradition" on it's ear. This is the kind of music you have to be prepared for... it is definitely not what you will hear on yer' local AM station... which is a fantastic thing! Wright's reeds are subtle on this recording, tho' (as always), challenging... th' best word for Marsh's cello/violin/vox playing (I think) is surreptitious, almost subliminal. There will be sections of these pieces that sneak back into your head in places you never thought you'd hear them... church, your local cellphone store, maybe a basketball game... & when they arrive in your head, you'll be drawn back to the album for another listen. Classic improvisation, with nuances for ev'ry listener... gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from us, especially for those enchanted with new sonics. - Rotcod Zzaj

(Tsuge's Free Improvisation) Birds in the Hand is a CD of wonderful free improvisation with an atmosphere strong in the European tradition. Jack Wright's superb technique and style of performance feel quite natural and prominant. It is said that one can draw a sharp line between free improvisation and free jazz in the US, and this release demonstrates the current state of American free improvisation. The structure of the two players' performance are comfortably independent, together the two create a systematic and complex pattern of sound. This is admirable freely improvised music and a highly recommended release. - Nobuyasu Tsuge. Translated by Yoko Sato

(Vital Weekly no. 378) Two great musical personalities shake hands here. They have met and played before, looking at their discography. On this new cd we find them together with a bunch of improvisations recorded live in 2002 mainly and 2000. Some background information first. Composer and multi_intrumentalist Bob Marsh (violin, cello, piano, vibraphone, flute, extended vocal techniques) is the founder of the Quintessentials, the Emergency String Quartet and the Emergency Piano Quintet. He is involved in several musical projects like Fred Lomberg_Holm's "Phenomenal String Quartet". He played with people like Ernesto Diaz_Infante, Bhob Rainey, Hal Rammell, Scott Rosenberg, Ken Vandermark and Michael Zerang. Wright plays already for 25 years and cooperated with a great variety of musicians: Chris Cochrane, Peter Hollinger, Fred Lonberg_Holm, Jim Meneses, Roger Turner, Mike Bullock, James Coleman, Greg Kelley, and so on. Since 1986 Marsh and Wright play together regularly. They explore their version of improvisational music and implicitely their relationship as friends. Wright says "For me, music is about loving what you do and those with whom you do it, and, so, paradoxically, free improvisation becomes an exploration of the interdependence of partners'. For there new explorations Marsh plays cello all over the cd, and violin in track 6. His processed voice is also heard throughout the cd. Wright plays contra-alto clarinet, alto sax and soprano sax, equally distributed over the 6 tracks. It's music with great feeling and humantiy. Good interplay. If you think free improvised music is dead already since a long time, here is some evidence of the opposite. These musicians are important exponents of the renaissance of free improvised music. - Dolf Mulder

(Eld Rich Palmer no. 12) Long have we waited and finally here it is: the first ‘real' CD in Public Eyesore catalogue after dozens of CD-Rs. It is hardly a commercial move on the label's part as this example, far less accessible than most of CD-Rs they put out, shows. Jack Wright & Bob Marsh are not unknown names in the world of improv. ‘Improvisational music that reflects and celebrates the mutual dependence of the players' – this short description from the liner notes seem to reflect the nature of any ‘unplanned' music and this means we're about to enter the microcosm of very personal relations and codes known only to the persons involved. That is why with this kind of music, unlike any other, you are likely to get put off, which happened to me, too. “Birds in the Hand” is inaccessible to ‘novices'. With a limited range of instruments (cello or violin vs. alto sax, soprano sax or contra-alto clarinet) the duo spin the spider threads of mutual relations – quiet sighs of the sax, accompanied by cello's murmurs. It goes without saying the way the sounds are produced is remotely different from the traditional methods. Whirrs, murmurs, screeches, scrapings, whistles and plenty of other non-descript sonics. Everything is either low-pitched of high-pitched; intermediate stages are scarce and if they do appear, you can even detect vestiges of tunes; the entanglement of sounds, just for a moment, turns into a beautiful chamber music. Maybe it's merely a coincidence. The sparing and interesting deployment of processed voice by Wright is also worth mentioning. A tough nut this record is, its shell got my nutcrackers broken but those inured to such difficulties will enjoy the kernel... - Krzysztof Sadza

(Indieville 10/27/2003) Scene veterans Jack Wright and Bob Marsh are two of the most respected improv / free jazz players in the world, and their recent collaboration, Birds in the Hand, gives you a good understanding of why that is. Sparse, with lots of blank silence, the album is devised to allow even the most short and simple instrumental blurts sound powerful and effective. Wright's playing is in the forefront as he tackles sax and clarinet duties, while Marsh's violin, cello, and "processed voice" merely serves as something like a back-up band. Even so, there's no doubting that he plays an integral role on Birds in the Hand; second track "Plight of the Mocking Birds," recorded live at the Sfalt Festival in Oakland California, nicely exemplifies Marsh's talent. The longest piece, "When Pigs Fly," features a very daring performance by Jack Wright on the clarinet and is worth a listen. Overall, this album is an enjoyable yet inessential release from Wright and Marsh. Only for serious free jazz aficionados. - Matt Shimmer

(Paris Transatlantic 01/2004) Reedman Jack Wright and cellist, violinist and vocalist Bob Marsh have enjoyed a working relationship going back to when they met in 1986 while Wright was playing in Detroit. Since then they've maintained an ongoing musical relationship during breaks in Jack's almost nonstop touring schedule. Wright has currently just finished a series of November dates with Phil Durrant; past tours have found him in the company of Bhob Rainey, John Butcher, Lê Quan Ninh, Tony Wren and Michel Doneda (to name but a few). Marsh is the leader of the Emergency String Quartet, the Robot Martians and the Illuminated Orchestra, and is a member of Fred Lonberg-Holm's Phenomenal String Quartet. In May 2000 these hyperactive musicians toured together in the Northwest; their stops at the SFalt Festival in Oakland, California and the Polestar Gallery in Seattle, Washington, plus a 2000 studio cut from Chicago, provide the music for this disc. Anybody expecting the fire-breathing Jack Wright would be advised to look elsewhere - whether it's the ornithological titles ("Plight of the Mocking Birds", "Magpie Pie", etc.) of these six improvised pieces or the situation of playing with a cello or violin, this is very understated music, which makes effective use of space. Which is not to impugn the quality; when Wright plays alto with Marsh's cello, it harkens back tonally to Julius Hemphill's duets with Abdul Wadud, albeit playing much less conventionally structured compositions. Likewise his soprano playing recalls, alternately, Steve Lacy or Larry Ochs. Such comparisons, however, provide merely elementary points of reference; both players have their own unique styles and highly original approaches to improvisation that reflect fully formed, if inadequately appreciated, musical personae. The unusual timbre of Marsh's processed vocals is somewhat disarming at first, but attentive listening reveals how they enhance the experience by expanding the aural palette, alternately mimicking the cello and providing counterpoint to it. Marsh and Wright's longstanding relationship reveals itself in the coherent ways that they respond to the series of ideas that are thrown out and subsequently developed. Birds In The Hand is strongly recommended to aficionados of duet music who are looking for unique approaches and fresh voices. - Stephen Griffith

(Blastitude no. 15) Just when I was sure I was D-O-N-E with freely improvised music (see Evan Parker/Joe McPhee write-up), along came this CD. It took me a few months just to get the nerve up to put it in the changer: a duo of saxophone and cello? Damn, sounds like kind of chamber improv that Cadence would approve of, right down to the helvetica type face and abstract painting on the cover. Two guys using their, gasp, given names, and picturing themselves on the back in a 'chummy' photo, and they're two old guys too! If Parker & McPhee didn't even turn my head how was this CD even going to make it in the changer? Well, one thing that finally got it in is that I've admired Mr. Wright for a long time -- back in Lincoln he would come through twice a year, usually solo, and play at a coffee house or art space to like 4 people, and I was usually one of them. There's always been something about Wright's delivery that make what could be the same old artsy tail-chasing lines come out as what Revenant Records called "raw music, punk." Really, Wright is sort of a punk -- I've read about how he had his 'anarchist' years back in the 70s when he renovated old rowhouses in run-down Philadelphia for a living, and he's still punk the way he travels the country and blows his guts out through the saxophone to audiences of almost none. Sure enough, that's all in here. However, it's a pretty low-key album -- it doesn't beat you up with attack and volume -- but Wright does constantly slap you upside the head with surprise. His sax constantly reinvents himself -- it almost never sounds like the same tone for more than a second. As for Marsh on cello, he's admirably less of an in-your-face sawer or 'radical reinterpreter of tradition' than he is a ghostly presence that Wright whips and flutters above and within. Marsh also plays violin and processed voice, but I have yet to discern when he changes from any one to any other. Believe me, I'm as surprised as anyone to be highly recommending a free improv duo CD -- but you should hear this! - Matt Silcock

(Ampersand Etcetera no. 2003 h) Jack Wright plays sax and clarinet while Bob Marsh is a cellist (violin on one track) and processed vocalist. The six tracks are all improvised and contain the sorts of sounds you would expect from those instruments. The bird title, carried through to the tracks, is appropriate as there are warbles, twitters, squeaks, scrapes, plucks, picking and occasionally the instruments manage to wander into parts of the woodland where they sound 'normal'. Added to this is Marsh's vocals which are really are form of scat, mumbled and whispered, lightly modulated and modified.Which makes this a hard album to describe, as it is all in the mood and the moment and descriptions bring it down. It is enjoyable – Wright and Marsh may wander the terrain with their instruments but they never take them to uncomfortable places; the sound is mellow and reflects their pleasure while never settling into an easy path; and there is sufficient variety through the mix of instruments and their skills with them to invoke new sounds. So, if you are in the mood for wind and string improv, this is a definite goer. - Jeremy Keens

(Dusted 7/15/2003) Saxophonist Jack Wright is right around sixty years old, but he's still learning as fast as a man half his age. In a recent piece about Wright for < I>Paris Transatlantic, Dan Warburton noted that after a long period playing free jazz, Wright began working with the young saxophonist Bhob Rainey in 1998 and moving toward a more experimental –and often more texture- and timbre-based – style of improvising. Over the next few years, Wright met and played with a number of young improvisers from outside the free jazz tradition, such as Greg Kelley, Scott Rosenberg, John Shiurba, and Matt Ingalls. Here, Wright is joined by cellist/vocalist Bob Marsh, with whom he’s played since 1986 while both men were living in Detroit. Like Wright, Marsh has spent the last several years playing with musicians whose improvisations are only tangentially related to free jazz . Unsurprisingly, then, Birds In The Hand is based on texture and timbre – extended techniques are an important part of Wright and Marsh's vocabularies. Wright often plays weird squeaks and pops, while Marsh scrapes and bounces his bow against the strings of his cello. Many musicians whose improvisations are often based on extended techniques, like Rainey or Axel Dörner, use styles of phrasing and interaction that are dramatically different from those of a typical free jazz musician. What sets Birds In the Hand apart is that while the vocabularies of Wright and Marsh's improvisations are similar to those of other extended-technique improvisers, their syntaxes are far more conventional. Wright and Marsh react to one another in a conversational way: there's plenty of call-and-response going on, and the two musicians' playing is busy, but relaxed. Also, there are plenty of relatively melodic lines to go along with all the extended techniques. While Birds In The Hand is less radical than, for example, Dörner's music, though, it's still a pretty odd record – it sometimes sounds as if Wright and Marsh are trying to play straightforward free jazz even though their brains aren't quite wired for it. (That's a compliment.) As with much outsider music, Birds In The Hand gives the listener the simultaneously unsettling and wonderful feeling that underneath the many perfectly normal things going on, there's something seriously wrong. Marsh's processed vocals are the main reason why: they're clipped and indecipherable, unpretentious and matter-of-factly weird. The vocals are annoying at first, but eventually they make the album feel far stranger than it has any right to be, which leaves me wondering what the musicians were thinking even as I’m enjoying the music. - Charlie Wilmoth

(Neo-zine) Free improvisation using alto sax, soprano sax, contra-alto clarinet, cello, violin, and processed vocals. All of the songs are over 6 minuets, half of them over the 10 minuet mark. Very sparse and plunky / plucky minimal note projectiles that aim at the ear and deliver startling jolts to the lax daisy brain numb. As much an invention as a work of art, these guys use their instruments in unconventional ways to create the unlikeliest of sounds. Its difficult to sit through, but it’s a ascetic sacrifice that must be made for the sake of exploration and knowledge. - C.H.C.

(AmbiEntrance 07/14/2003) Having played together since 1986, this duo is used to flocking together in freeform musical exploration... Jack Wright brings his saxes and clarinet, Bob Marsh contributes cello, processed voice and violin, though don't expect anything too straightforward to hatch during this hourlong collection of captured-live wanderings. Birds in the Hand leads with spaciously emitted honks and warbles, loosely backed by even-more-spacious bass blurts; other weird wriggly activities ensue, including what may be human voice engaging in crazy linguistic acrobatics? When Pigs Fly (13:40) offers up a similarly enigmatic tableau, again with sparsely strewn oddities like mumbly words, sax skronks, spectral dronetones, scrawling strings and other cryptic musings. Double-fisted Cat-napper even slips a little of that thing most folks would call "music" albeit jazzily meandering. One more from the birds... Tweet-tweet, Twitter-twitter-squawk reflects the onomatopoeia of its title, in a final bout of quizzical improv compositions. I'm sure there's alot of skill called upon here (and certainly an impressive amount of "damn normality" ethos is displayed!) - David J. Opdyke

(All Music Guide) Jack Wright and Bob Marsh share the distinction of consistently recording quality albums of radically free improvisation that attract extremely small but intensely devoted followings. Although living in different parts of the country at the time these tracks were recorded, the two started performing together in 1986 and have since often crossed paths at festivals and clubs. So it would only be natural to expect this joint venture to produce something of special value. Unfortunately, while there is sometimes interesting interaction between the two, they often meander, seemingly going in different directions, almost as if they were playing independently of one another. Each soloist follows exasperatingly individualistic paths that incorporate unique perspectives, each pursuing primitive DuBuffet-esque approaches that disassociate themselves from cliches or predetermined patterns. While Wright, in particular, incorporates some jazz influences, mostly this is free improvisation in its purest form, with each note springing forth from an almost blank slate. The recording captures Wright and Marsh live with two tracks each from three separate gigs, for each of which Wright plays a different horn. He seems most comfortable on alto sax (Birds in the Hand and Magpie Pie) and on soprano sax (Plight of the Mocking Birds and Doublefisted Cat-Napper), but his slap tonguing and jagged thrusts on contra-alto clarinet on Tweet-tweet, Twitter-twitter-squawk and the later recorded When Pigs Fly are also impressive. Marsh plays second fiddle, though his unique acerbic forays for which he is known are always in evidence. - Steven Loewy

(Jazzosphere no. 19) Lorsque deux légendes de la musique improvisée américaine décident de nous partager l'espace d'un moment, leur passion pour le duo, on ne peut qu'être curieux puis subjugué. Le saxophoniste Jack Wright demeure le musicien le plus indispensable de sa génération. Véritable catalyseur d'énergie, explorateur infatigable, grand sorcier blanc dans une musique d'inspiration noire, il reste la référence par excellence pour toutes les générations qui ont suivi. Bob Marsh, quant à lui, peut être décrit comme le trublion de la scène alternative américaine. Présent partout, de la Californie à Chicago, il apporte sa fraîcheur et sa force de renouvellement à tous les projets auxquels il participe. On comprend dès lors pourquoi il reste si courtisé. Birds in the Hand renferme toutes les qualités et les surprises auxquelles on pouvait s'attendre avec en bonus un humour et une complicité rare. " Cette musique est un tribu au paradoxe de la musique improvisée qui reflète et célèbre la mutuelle dépendance de ses musiciens ". - Sébastien Moig

(Aiding and Abetting no. 244) Jack Wright takes care of the reeds (saxophones and conta-alto clarinet) and Bob Marsh handles the strings (cello and violin). These sounds are exceptionally complimentary, and that helps to give these improvisations a comfy, warm feel. Five of the tracks were recorded live, and the sixth was done in a studio. There is very little difference in either the sound quality or the quality of interplay between the two men. These guys have been playing together for years, and they obviously know how to bring out the best in each other. Marsh and Wright use non-traditional sounds (squeaks, pops, and other "mistakes") as often as regular "playing." This could lead to a real mess, but the aforementioned ease these guys have with each other allows each man to go out on a limb without exposing his backside. There's always a way back to the core of each piece. I'm a sucker for people taking the idea of music to the outer limits. Wright and Marsh aren't all that outlandish, but they don't play by many established rules, either. I really like the obvious affection these men have for one other. It makes this disc all that more memorable. - Jon Worley

(Splendid Ezine 7/26/2004) For freeform jazz aficionados, Birds in the Hand is probably a daring, exhilarating work of free jazz experimentalism gone mad. For uncultured dullards like me, it's an hour of random alto-sax honking, cello slashes and garbled voices. I'm a simple man with simple verse-chorus-verse tastes, and the graybeard tandem of saxophonist/clarinetist Jack Wright and cellist/violinist/talk-boxer Bob Marsh works outside of my musical neighborhood. Fuck, they're in another county. Still, just because I don't understand a lick of it doesn't mean I can't appreciate it. Sort of. The conceit of freeform composition is that it's reflexive and made up on-the-spot -- one performer must read his/her partner's tack and follow, creating sounds organically instead of artificially plotting them out. Wright and Marsh have been recording together off and on for almost 20 years, so there's a familiarity here that belies the haphazard out-there-ness of Birds' six pieces. Sadly, the two players are often at their best when separated: Wright's flitting clarinet is frequently drowned out by Marsh's plucking and scatting, while some of the cellist's more interesting instrumental passages are wrecked by Wright's tuneless honking. On one track, though, the pair are on the same page, more or less: The 11-minute "Double-Fisted Cat-Napper" could serve as the score to a twisted art-house cartoon in which Wright's twittering soprano sax voices a mischievous budgie and Marsh's cello is the big, lumbering tabby that chases it around an art-deco apartment. Eleven minutes of fun amid an hour of jazzbo chaos is enough of a payoff for me. - Steve English


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