This is the second album by Australian vocalist Tom Barton
, the first being Aspirations
(2014) and is an entirely improvised affair. On Connections
Barton shares the credits with fellow countryman Diego Villalta on guitar and was recorded at Studio Osaka Recording, Osaka, Japan, whilst the pair were on tour in early 2015.
Harmonium-like looped notes precede Tom Barton‘s wordless pellucid tenor vocals on the opening track “Trust.” Any anticipation, garnered from this first offering, of the session being one of ambient music is rapidly disproved in the seven subsequent tracks. “Sensei” features Diego Villalta on lithely finger picked guitar, the piece revolving around the repeated words “one grain of sand, drop in the ocean” in the form of an ethereal chant. The words are gradually treated to a looping effect and intertwine with the guitar before the looping discontinues in a more natural “live” ending.
The short “Prelude to the Bus Ride” involves wordless mouth-generated sounds; snorks, clicking and popping, redolent, in improvisational technique, to the innovative British vocalist Phil Minton. Barton here is accompanied by Villalta’s sparse reverse effect guitar. In the pastoral abstraction of “Growing Up,” repeated wordless vocals are accompanied by limpid guitar. Appropriately spacey sound effects provide a backdrop for “A Forming Universe” with the voice slowly emerging from sheets of sound.
The short track “Dawn” is rich in reverberating notes and an almost imperceptible wash of looped voice, over which Barton’s mellifluous voice repeatedly intones “there is a light.” By contrast, the quirkily titled “One Night of Hedonism (One Day of Vegetables),” and the longest track at nearly eleven minutes, begins almost inaudibly, but little by little builds -Barton’s Buddhist monk-like looped chanting taking centre stage -to a dramatic crescendo, eventually fading out with a single lone voice and a solitary plangent chord.
The final number, “The Bus Ride” revolves around reverse effect guitar and an underlying vocal pulse. Over this hypnotic sonic morass, Barton unfurls all manner of vocal gymnastics before the piece fades out on a solitary echoey note.
Connections won’t necessarily appeal to everyone; its improvisational stylistic variations and lack of formal jazz conventions may tend to alienate to some listeners. But challenging convention is surely what permits any art form to progress. The oft quoted lines from William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell seem appropriate in this context: “Without contraries is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence.” Barton and Villalta have certainly produced a work of contraries and anyone with an open mind and two receptive ears should welcome this brave, sensitive and not infrequently brilliant music.