Review – Ambiguous Dialogues

The track titles on Philip Clemo’s third release, Ambiguous Dialogues, are so unashamedly abstract you could shuffle around and reassign them in random order without either losing or gaining anything in terms of meaning: “Language”, “Time”, “Direction”, “Form”. But the overall title is apposite and well chosen, for much of this music is ambiguous in terms of genre, and often takes the form of a dialogue, whether between different forms or even separate instruments. It’s impossible even to describe particular tracks as chamber jazz, Ambient pop or New Music, because as soon as you do, the syncopated jazz shuffle melts into a dense layering of interwoven strings or gives way to a synthesis of atmospheres and ‘location sound recordings’. Sometimes, as in “Temperature”, the music is tantalisingly, deliberately incomplete, presented as a set of problems or questions teetering on the brink of resolution, much like Paul Sch¸tze’s Phantom City projects, Site Anubis and Shiva Recoil LiveUnlive. 13 musicians play around 20 instruments, and on some tracks, such as “Scale”, it seems as if you can hear each one of them, but no sound ever crowds out another. Phil Slater (trumpet) and Wire contributor Clive Bell (shakuhachi, bansuri, pi saw and shinobue flutes) engage in a game of call and response against a background of urgent strings. Those involved have worked with artists as diverse as Jah Wobble, The London Philharmonic, David Sylvian, Bjˆrk and, indeed, Sch¸tze. The album is mesmeric and completely addictive, more complex and beautiful and musically adventurous than Clemo’s first two albums (both with metal violin player Mee), Inhale the Colours and soundzero. But any new converts – and the Scottish-born, London based composer deserves armies of them – would not be disappointed by soundzero in particular.

Nicholas Royle, The Wire, UK