Michelson Morley – Strange Courage
(Babel Label BDV15140, CD review by Mark McKergow)
If there were a prize for forming bands with instantly distinctive sounds, Bristol-based saxophonist Jake McMurchie would surely carry it off. As a key driving force behind the award-winning quartet Get The Blessing, McMurchie has moved from bass-groove to live-wire industrial loopy without dropping a beat.
Strange Courage is the second album from Michelson Morley (the name refers to a famous physics experimenter duo who proved that the ‘ether’ didn’t exist). Originally formed in 2012, the original trio of McMurchie, Mark Whitlam (percussion) and Will Harris (bass) have added guitarist Dan Messore to the line-up. The result is an even wider palette of sound to construct hard-driving compositions which surge forward with little respite and no prisoners taken.
The opening Tamer As Prey is a good example – juddering reverberations are joined by guitar and electronics, in a hypnotic series of repeated notes, before layers of haunting soprano sax almost like birdsong allow a little space to emerge – and all the while the insistent rapid heartbeat of the piece carries on, lifting all before it. And then, with about a minute to go, a great peace overcomes us, with gentle guitar echoes merging with, but not completely overwhelming, the sax calls - an epic in just under eight minutes.
Other tracks show off the group’s commitment to textures and industrial-sounding pulses. Prime Twin is built around a low-end pulse which might have been found somewhere on the back lot of Dr Who, which acts as foil for tenor sax explorations and snare drum rattles and rolls, before a definite and emphatic theme finally arrives – followed by fully 25 seconds of silence (which emphasises the unexpected elements continually cropping up in the music, as well as being a bit perturbing if you’re listening on the Tube and wondering if your headphone wire has come adrift).
Another similarity to the work of McMurchie’s other combo Get The Blessing (aside of the science-based names of the tunes), this collection comes across as a real group effort. There are no real ‘solos’, with each tune evolving and developing as a soundscape with its own internal logic. There’s a lot to listen to, and a lot of listening is required to make the most of it. Michelson Morley is not easy listening, and that’s a compliment in these days where loops can so easily mean laziness.