The Swifter [Vinyl edition]

LP - 4 tracks - 39:44
Photography by Chris Bigg

Track listing:
A1: End of Capstan Bars
A2: Neap Tide
B1: Swallow
B2: Wave Guidance Allows Three

Drums & percussion: Andrea Belfi. Electronics: BJNilsen. Piano: Simon James Phillips. Recorded by Mattef Kuhlmey at the Grunewaldkirche, Berlin, September 2011. Mixed by The Swifter. Cut by Jason Goz at Transition Mastering Studios, London, August 2012.


Introducing The Swifter – a new trio featuring Andrea Belfi (drums and percussion), BJNilsen (electronics) and Simon James Phillips (piano).

Their debut album documents the first encounter of the three musicians. Recorded live in the Grunewald Church, Berlin, careful attention was given to capturing the unique resonant acoustic offered by the airy, stone building, exhibiting the broad palate of aesthetic qualities the group are able to create. Subtly evolving sound worlds that evoke, at times, the loneliness within a ship’s hold; a relentlessly driven wall of harmonically rich sound or a sonic fog that lifts to reveal a delicate instrumental discourse.

Nilsen sources material from the soundboard of the giant Bösendorfer Imperial concert grand played by Phillips. This setup facilitates a oneness of sound that Nilsen subtly manipulates to either augment or contrast against the unique sonic world of Phillips’ playing – which is carefully punctuated or driven by Belfi’s distinctive style.

The album's cover features double-exposure photography shot by Chris Bigg (David Sylvian/4AD). Available as a limited edition vinyl LP and as FLAC download on The Wormhole, a byproduct of The Tapeworm.

Reviews:

Boomkat (UK):

The Wormhole introduce The Swifter - a new trio featuring Andrea Belfi (drums and percussion), BJNilsen (electronics) and Simon James Phillips (piano) - on three tantalisingly spacious live recordings made in the Grunewald Church, Berlin. The players operate in discrete discourse with the building's unique resonant architecture, using its airy aesthetic qualities and stone construction to deftly accentuate the harmonically rich tones and textures of their delicate gestures. Phillips plays a Bösendorfer Imperial concert grand, which is subsequently processed by Nilsen and punctuated by Belfi's fluid, distinctive style in a feedback system of measured, tempered sonorities. Their first piece 'End of Capstan Bars' starts out creaking and keeling, evoking "the loneliness within a ship's hold" but evolves into a gorgeous and minimal wash of spiritual jazz tones and tranquil bliss also recalling Edward Larry Gordon's 'Celestial Vibrations'; 'Neap Tide' is quieter, space afforded to the fluttering keys and pensile electronics; 'Swallow' the seductive centrepiece, evolves rippling drum patterns and plangent harmonics that diffuse like incense; with 'Wave Guidance Allows Three' Belfi locks onto an urgent, metronomic rhythm while Phillips' keys and Nilsen's electronics accumulate a stirring mass of energy, dissipating when Belfi flickers into impossibly dextrous double time.

Ondarock (Italy):

Andrea Belfi alla batteria, BJ Nilsen all'elettronica e Simon James Phillips al pianoforte. Un trio delle meraviglie capace di parlare una lingua tra jazz e ambient più onirica che cosmica: la batteria di Belfi è il ponte tra l'elettroacustica di BJ Nilsen e il pianismo estremamente lirico di Phillips. Il suono dei piatti carezzati e percossi alla maniera di Paul Motian è il collante tra universi apparentemente distanti: nulla sembra fuori posto nelle liquide architetture sonore improvvisate da The Swifter.

Il disco è stato registrato all'interno della Chiesa Grunewald, a Berlino, nel settembre del 2001, facendo grande attenzione ai riverberi acustici dell'ambiente. A trarne giovamento è stata soprattutto la batteria di Belfi che nel mix finale sembra potersi muovere liquidamente nello spazio come nelle migliori produzioni dell'ECM. A enfatizzare l'eco e le riflessioni del suono gioca un ruolo fondamentale anche l'elettronica di Nilsen, che per l'ocasione ha manipolato i suoni del Bösendorfer suonato da Phillips al fine di sottolinearne i dettagli. Il risultato non è distante dalle atmosfere che si respiravano sugli incredibili dischi dei Necks (il cui pianista, Chris Abrahams, ha collaborato proprio con Phillips nel progetto Pedal, pochi anni fa).

L'idea di "spazio" fa scorrere con gran naturalezza le quattro lunghe improvvisazioni contenute sul disco. Ogni particolare della realizzazione di "The Swifter" è stato curato con grande attenzione: dalla scelta dei microfoni utilizzati durante la registrazione a quella per la foto di copertina per la quale è stato ingaggiato Chris Bigg, famoso per i suoi lavori sui dischi di David Sylvian e su molti dei capolavori della 4AD.

Il disco è disponibile in edizione limitata in vinile e in dl (flac).

The Liminal (UK):

The self-titled debut from recently formed trio, The Swifter, is the result of an experimental sound project that began in August 2011. Made up of Andrea Belfi (percussion), BJNilsen (electronics) and Simon James Phillips (piano), the members hail from Italy, Sweden and Australia, respectively.

This astounding album seems, at times, the biography of the building it was recorded in – the Grunewald Church in Berlin. Acoustic bliss for an orchestral trio such as The Swifter, the space seems stony, resonant, and ethereal, and forms the basis of their interaction with each other and their instruments. Their attention to the atmospherics allows for a discourse that belies their own orchestral story – they’re nestled in the belly of this beast, and they’re producing their harmonies and rhythms accordingly.

Beyond this architectural reading of the album is a nautical element. ‘Swifter’ refers to a line that runs around the ends of the capstan bars on a ship that prevent their falling out of the sockets, and the names of the four pieces which make up the album conjure up a similar aesthetic. The opening gamut, fittingly titled ‘The End of the Capstan Bars’ begins quietly, almost invites its listeners to arrive in the space that it is opening up. But again, they’re inside the vessel; they’re swaying with its pulse, the rhythm that brings the trio together to perform this near perfect debut. They’re running their lines around this space, showing us its circumference, its nooks and crannies. They refuse to take up the space, but invite us to be inside it, for a soothing 46 minutes and 21 seconds.

Belfi is an electro-acoustic composer and a member of the Italian electronic collective Medves, who have been performing and recording together since the early 2000s. Beyond this, Belfi has also been working on a solo project that seeks to turn a whole house into an instrument. By introducing instruments and their necessary amplifications into various parts of a house – a cupboard full of pots and pans, for example – the house becomes a ‘living creature with its own voice’. It comes as no surprise, then, to hear that part of Belfi’s performativity for this new album sees him working closely alongside Phillips – Belfi manipulates and ‘plays’ various surfaces of the giant Börsendorfer imperial concert grand that Phillips plays.

Phillips, coming from a classical background, now works primarily as an experimental improvisation pianist. He is concerned with the perception of time through music, evoking a kind of phenomenological understanding of our movement through time and space, where music carries the cartographical parameters. At the helm of the vessel, Phillips works with pace to control the development of the piece, pushing his audience towards an affective understanding of their own time and space perceptions. By pushing the piano to the limits of its mechanical possibilities, he provokes his audience to consider the tension between inorganic sound and the harmonic inflections the piano holds in its sway.

And these two integrals are seamlessly held together by the electronic agility of Nilsen. Releasing his first recordings at the age of 15, Nilsen has continued to probe the boundaries that sound and nature are subjected to through recording and commodification. His work here is the adhesive that holds the show together – his soundings and recordings work to unite the piano and percussion, by creating the stitching that binds them. But that’s not to say that he’s creating a safe space for these two to work in. He’s providing a platform, and not unlike the nautical element that seems to run as metaphor for this entire work, that platform seems to maintain fluidity. He pushes and pulls, and in doing so, creates a sway upon which the sounds fall gently.

The album begins quietly, unassumingly – the percussion slowly leads us into the first track, before the piano and electronics are subtly and progressively introduced, before slowly fading out again, to return to silence. The second track, ‘Neap Tide’, begins with a slightly atonal, repetitive piano trill. This rises and falls throughout the length of the track, in a state of iteration with itself – each gesture is a repetition of the last, which over the course of the first few minutes becomes a continual variation of itself. It’s in this second track that we start to get a sense of the space the musicians are inhabiting – you can almost hear the distance between the musicians growing and retracting, as though the recording apparatus were moving fluidly around the space too.

Through this and the next track there is a tendency towards the kind of improvisation of a jazz trio – the three seem to be conversing with each other, allowing each a chance to air their sound and then a point for the other to push off from. And while the album rises and falls with that regulatory wateriness, the break between these two central tracks punctuates the transition from the first to the second half of the album – there is a sharp, mechanical and arrhythmic jolt, followed by the hint of piano harmonies coming up from underneath.

Towards the end of the third track, ‘Swallow’, we start to get more hints of the drama of the album. There is a deep, resonating base percussion that comes in close to halfway through this track, which sounds similar to an echolocation instrument. Slowly, it serves to punctuate the parameters of the space, reminding us of the locale and its acoustics, before regulating into a kind of heartbeat. Before we get too comfortable in this womb-like state however, the beat tilts towards irregularity, introducing an air of mania, and provoking a feeling of the workings of the inner-psyche; an argument with the self that cycles, iterates, and then begins to die out.

It’s hard to tell where improvisation and indeterminacy end and arrangements begin; the music shifts like shadows across the concrete wall, marking the moving of time, and punctuating the presence of the sound. There is an aural simplicity to the progression of this album – it flows through sound, letting the sounds become full and expansive, before letting them slide off into the flow of time and space. There is an essence of the metaphysical in it; we’re moving with them – the sounds and the musicians – through this time-space continuum, into the architecture of the church-cum-vessel, exploring the sonorities of its movement through the same continuum. The music becomes the entry point to the space, but remains what we wouldn’t hear if we were actually there. It opens up this physical and metaphorical space for us to listen, but the musician’s don’t attempt to take up this space. Rather, they invite their audience in.

Gerhard Richter once said that a motivation for his self-portraiture was the desire to look in the mirror with his eyes closed. This sonorous and atmospheric album lets us enter a space and explore the capacious architectural logic of a building, while standing in static repose. It also lets us imagine a soundscape where harmony and affect reigns. The Swifter create a space, but refuse to reside in it fully, leaving you wondering where they might got next. Their trajectory appears rich; they’re well worth tuning in to, if not for this album, then to see where their sonic meanderings take them from here.

Chain DLK:

The Wormhole, the newborn imprint by cassette label The Tapeworm, definitively weighs anchor by means of this seafaring debut release of an impressive trio made up of Italian drummer, electroacoustic musician and composer Andrea Belfi, Australian Berlin-resident pianist Simon James Phillips and Swedish sound-artist Benny Jonas Nilsen. The sound genesis by The Swifter approximately works so: Phillips strokes on Imperial, the largest flagship by the notorious Austrian piano manufacturer Boesendorfer, get into Nilsen's machines, both of them seem to interact in real-time, while Belfi's drumming and electroacoustic nick-nacks sometimes play the role of a joining link, sometimes emphasizes the "dialogue" between the other "interlocutors", but there's a fourth member of the line-up which plays a very important role: the setting they've chosen for the recording, Berlin's Grunewald Church, whose impressive reverberation already attracted similar musicians like Nils Frahm, who recorded "The Bells", and Dustin O'Halloran. The fact that listener's imagination could be broght on a sailing boat struggling against unpredictable moods of the sea or got confused with the sea-mist, the breathtaking feeling of infinite space or the relief for the sight of a forthcoming haven has not been influenced by the fact the release has many references to nautical words, but it arises from the sonic hints this trio manages to render: the ingenious attention to details, the gentle metronic brushes on hats, the sophisticated play of echoes and delays and even the electroacoustic additives which realistically simulates the creaking of the deck or the noise of the cordage a sailor knows are so vivid that you could easily lapse into a daydreaming and enchanted state. Available on limited edition vinyl lp or FLAC download, I cannot but recommended such a charming listening experience!

VITAL (Netherlands):

The Wormhole, is a 'byproduct of The Tapeworm', and releases 'round' things, hence a LP here. The Swifter is a trio of the for me unknown Simon James Phillips on piano, BJNilsen on electronics and Andrea Belfi on drums and percussion. This was recorded in 2011 in a church in Berlin and I have no idea of The Swifter is an one-off or intended as an ongoing concern. The liner notes are very cryptic here, but the key is provided: 'What is this record? Space. Not sure. But space is one thing for sure'. Like I am pleased with the current wave of spacious Australian 'jazz' music (Spartak, Gilded, 3Millions and Pollen Trio), this too shares that terrain. It's not really jazz of course by any sort of jazz standard, but especially what Phillips and Belfi are doing on their instruments is a bit jazz like, and spacious - above all spacious. BJNilsen provides the odd element here, something which takes it even further away from the jazz, and adds a more sinister backdrop to the music. Belfi keeps rolling his mallets over the skins and the piano plays repeated chords, but, hey, this is a church, so it sounds also a bit remote, a bit far away - more spacious movements going on here. This is the kind of music without a term. Its improvised for sure, its not really jazz, its quite ambient, but then also heavily acoustic. Maybe it is one of those things where you realize you don't need terms all the time to say something about the music. This is an excellent record, and let's hope The Swifter is indeed not an one-off project. [FdW]



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The Swifter [Vinyl edition]


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