Records are almost always more than they seem. For all the sound and joy that they bring, they are works of art in multiple that indicate vast networks of happening, history, and ideas; beacons to be chased, leading to understanding beyond themselves. Particularly in the case of historical works, whether they emerge from dusty crates or as reissues and archival releases, these objects can reveal unexpected creative intersections that defy our notions of what was. Aguirre’s first-time reissue of Slow Music, Lol Coxhill and Morgan Fisher’s lone collaborative LP from 1981, is one such case. Beautiful and visionary on creative terms, it doubles as a rare artefact that bridges worlds in ways that would be unlikely to happen again.
Few fans of avant-garde music will need introduction to the work of Lol Coxhill. A true maverick of British improvised music, the saxophonist cut a wide path with roughly a half century of dense output. Arguably best known within the contexts of free jazz, working in his own ensembles and those of others, notably Company, Spontaneous Music Orchestra, London Improvisers Orchestra, Trevor Watts' Moiré Music, and The John Stevens Dance Orchestra, Coxhill was among the few members of his generation to push beyond the lines in the sand between genres, and worked regularly within the more ambitions zones of pop, notably with Kevin Ayers, Shirley Collins, The Damned, and Lindsay Cooper, among a near countless number of others.
With Coxhill’s more liberated temperaments understood, his creative intersection with Morgan Fisher seems less incongruous. Unlike his collaborator, Fisher began his career within the popular world, first as a member of The Soul Survivors, before helping to found the progressive rock band, Morgan, and then finding even more fame as a member of Mott the Hoople. While there were hints at what was to come, notably his brief tenure within the legendary Third Ear Band, by the late 70s Fisher had begun to veer far afield, ultimately leading to his move to Japan in 1985, and his full commitment to making ambient and improvised music, an ambitious temperament hinted at by his legendary compilation, Miniatures (A Sequence of Fifty-One Tiny Masterpieces Edited By Morgan-Fisher), comprised of 51 one-minute tracks by Robert Fripp, Gavin Bryars, Michael Nyman, The Pretenders, XTC, Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Robert Wyatt, Ivor Cutler, The Damned, and great many more.
Coxhill and Fisher first came together in the studio when the saxophonist worked on Fisher’s mutant electro project Hybrid Kids, but nothing about it, despite the two projects’ close proximity, hinted at where the two would go on their own. Issued on Fisher’s own, Cherry Red backed imprint, Pipe, Slow Music is a remarkable meeting of sonorous words and creative ideas, and entirely unique improv/ambient album by two creative minds, that somehow seems to capture the zeitgeist of its moment while sounding not quite like anything else. The project began with Fisher deciding to make an album of ambient music, a broader moment that was only then beginning to reveal cohesion among his peers via albums emerging on Brian Eno’s Editions EG. Always a maverick that bucked intuition, rather than using synths, Morgan enlisted Coxhill to generate raw material which he then processed in various ways.
Slow music opens with Que En Paz Descanse, built from Coxhill’s rendition of Handel's Largo, sent spinning through tape delays, VCS3 filters, and octave shifts, resulting in what Fisher described as being like a Mexican funeral march. As the progressing pushes into steadily more ambitious zones, transforming the sound of the sax sound into everything from bells to lush orchestral soundscapes. The 20-minute title track is based on the melody of the short closing track (which Coxhill sang, accompanied by church bells), to which Fisher added Morgan phrases from the melody using piano, guitar, bass, and voice, before snipping the beginning of each note to make the sounds less recognizable, then looped each phrase and recorded long stretches of the loops onto individual tracks, and then building work in real time by fading tracks in-and-out through long tape delays.
Stunning, incredibly immersive and beautiful, as well as remaining creatively challenging nearly 40 years after it first emerged, Slow Music is a truly visionary piece of work, pushing avant-garde and experimental practice into new realms of possibility at the dawn of the 80s, while channeling so much of where it had been over the previous decades. One of the great artifacts of British underground music of its era, channeling the past, present, and future as a single force, while revealing rarely observed intersections of distinct creative world. Absolutely essential. We can’t thank Aguirre enough for bringing this one back. Issued on vinyl for the first time since its original 1981 releases, and beautifully reproducing the original artwork, it’s impossible to recommend enough.