One album this year stood apart for me and it was this record by former progressive house DJ James Holden, an endeavour that the word ‘epic’ was presumably designed for.
Assembled by Holden as bandleader and with his own electronics as the backbone, The Animal Spirits was executed through improvisations that were faithful to the questing spirit of jazz, specifically the spiritual music crafted by the likes of Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders and Don Cherry, and the similarly transcendent cycles of Moroccan trance music.
Electronics should act as a inflexible handbrake on pure improv, or at least that’s what we’re meant to believe, but Holden isn’t a typical electronic musician – not only did he build his own hand baggage-sized modular synth, but he also wrote his own software that was integrated with his drummer’s playing to ensure that he could keep up with the rest of the band. The fact that Holden would go so far as to work with a renowned physicist on the theory behind how a duo of musicians impact one another through errors in their playing, and then figure out how to program that, and then make it fit into a band concept, underlines just how different Holden is. There is a vibrant electronic jazz fusion scene going on right now, spearheaded by Holden and his Border Community imprint, Floating Points and others, but The Animal Spirits still stands apart.
I interviewed James for Electronic Sound. The interview took place at his studio near Turnham Green, a compact space filled with modular kit where The Animal Spirits was realised in what must have been an intense series of sessions. Holden is an educated, softly spoken, thoughtful individual. You get the impression when speaking to Holden that he’s only devoting part of his brain to the conversation – not because he’s disinterested, as he was perhaps the most engaging interviewee I sat with this year, but because he’s partitioned off the rest of his brain to resolve some new, complex algorithm simultaneously.
I’m convinced that, in years to come, people will consider The Animal Spirits to be a pivotal electronic music album, one that freed up synths from the linear shackles of rigid sequencers; don’t wait for everyone else to catch up – enjoy it now. Listen to The Animal Spirits here.
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(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence