If IHTLP’s first album Abstract Playgrounds was the sound of a close-knit group of improvisors riffing on the twisted funk of Miles Davis’s On the Corner, as filtered through the lens of James Brown and Fela Kuti, then this second, Lost in Place, is a whole other matter.
Instead of a continuation of the groove, this new album has taken a decidedly left turn, journeyed to a far darker place. Whereas previously, we heard the sustained groove of a creative unit playing live in the studio, this time round we find ourselves confronted by a portrait of the composer as alchemist, practising the dark arts in secret. If we were to invoke Miles once more, we could say that this is trumpeter and IHTLP leader Reuben Lewis’s Dark Magus phase, an album of stripped-down trumpet utterances, electronic soundscapes, and weird vibrations.
There is a starkness to this music, exemplified in the three and a half-minute opening track, comprised of a trumpet fanfare, modulated and distorted, played over electronic beats and synths. As the album progresses, we get subtle hints of Reggae, the harmolodics of Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time, trance, nods to prog rock, gentle refrains and riffs, free jazz, rhythmic percussion, scraps of guitar, saxophone, trombone. It’s a mash-up of influences, put through a grinder, adventurous and experimental at heart.
Reuben Lewis has drawn upon a talented pool of musicians to create this music: saxophonist Cheryl Durongpisitkul, trombonist Jordan Murray, cellist Freya Schack-Arnott, voice artist Emily Bennett, bassist Tom Lee, guitarists Geoff Hughes and Julius Schwing, electric bassists Mick Meagher and David Brown, and drummers Ronny Ferella, Michael McNab and Maria Moles. Rather than playing set pieces, these artists have instead contributed their sound palette, the base metal from which Lewis builds his vision. Each contribution has been broken down, isolated and sampled, filtered through a maze of electronics, then re-assembled, creating a sum distinct from its parts.
This is the musician as bricoleur, taking inspiration from the constructions of Kurt Schwitters and Dada, the raw sounds of Musique Concrète, the patterns and drones of early minimalism. The art of breaking down each performance into its constituent components, and re-building them into new and arresting forms. This is music as assemblage, using the studio as laboratory, a way of thinking about sound other than performance. Samples, loops, pedals, edits, every tool in the toolbox, whatever works. Making decisions on what to put in, and what to take out. Think Teo Macero and Miles carefully crafting ‘Pharoah’s Dance’, practising sorcery in post-production.
If looking to nominate a guiding spirit behind Lost in Place, we would do well to look to visionary late trumpeter and composer Jon Hassell who, through to his ninth decade, continued to make music as vital and powerful as that of any time in his career. Proponent of a Fourth World aesthetic, Hassell was an innovator and touchstone for the experimental layering of sound built upon samples, overdubs, fragments and loops. A sonic explorer, his musical montages are an acknowledged inspiration for Reuben Lewis’s work.
While Lost in Place is sequenced as eleven tracks, it is best approached as two unbroken flows of music, divided into Side A and Side B. But let’s dwell upon those titles for a moment. The album’s title Lost in Place can’t help but feel like a nod to the Sun Ra classic Space is the Place (and there’s plenty of interplanetary synths going on here), or then again it could be an allusion to the Robinson family, bouncing around in space, dedicating each day (or episode) to finding home. The album’s individual track titles, when lined up, form an incantatory sound poem: finding place / place in space / losing place / rest in place / space in place / losing space (and so on). The music circles, jabs and feints, all-the-while trying to find a place to rest. Layer upon layer, ever-searching, it incrementally builds, progressing headlong toward Emily Bennett’s spoken word piece, sounding a crie de coeur, that effectively closes the circle, reprising an echo of the opening fanfare, this time with renewed urgency. But, alas, there are no easy answers, and the album’s ending remains intentionally unresolved, splintering and fracturing into otherworldly sounds, dark and ambiguous.
More than anything, Lost in Place feels like a bold conceptual statement, a recording seeded out of doubt and uncertainty. In toying with the mirrored words place/space, Reuben Lewis has given us a timely meditation on our growing need to navigate a path through overwhelming social, economic and global turmoil, as we seek a place – even if temporarily – to land. Let’s face it, in these times, we need it now more than ever.
Limited edition of 150 clear vinyl housed in gatefold cover.