Ex-Wise Heads: Celestial Disclosure

If the name Ex-Wise Heads is unfamiliar, its two musicians are considerably less so, as the group boasts former Henry Cow member Geoff Leigh (saxophones, flutes, keyboards, programming, electronics) and Porcupine Tree's Colin Edwin (fretless and double basses, programming) as members. Their third Ex-Wise Heads full-length, Celestial Disclosure, captures their heady blend of jazz, funk, electronica, and global music in full flight. Originally released in 2007 in a vinyl format, it now appears on CD with a bonus track, “Manikarnika,” that was recorded at the same sessions as the original two pieces and which adds Indian-born acoustic guitarist Rajan Spolia to the mix. All three pieces are long-form, which makes them feel somewhat stream-of-consciousness in character. Though they feature soloing, the pieces aren't pure improvs, however, as pre-planned compositional structures are clearly evident.

After five minutes of at-times spooky atmospheric sound scultping, “Heliosphere” settles into an explorative episode of fretless bass-and-tabla playing that isn't unlike something Bill Laswell served up on his 1988 solo album Hear No Evil. Electronic touches and percussive accents also simmer in the background before drums enter, followed by Leigh's robust soprano sax attack. With seventeen minutes at its disposal, the track has ample room to pursue mutliple pathways and so caps that uptempo section with a meditative one featuring flute and bowed double bass. Like the opening piece, the slightly longer “Solar Mass” starts unhurriedly, with a curdling synthetic drone the initial focal point before the material enters a laid-back section where Edwin's beautiful bass tone is given a few moments in the spotlight. His tasteful playing, always supportive of whatever's happening in the moment, is one of the album's prime selling points. Leigh's flute and saxophone playing also proves to be a major part of the music's appeal, as shown by the mournful flute solo he contributes to the piece's second half and the rather Eastern-flavoured sax solo that comes after. On “Manikarnika,” Spolia's acoustic guitar playing adds a contrasting sound to the mix. Ex-Wise Heads' affinity for Eastern-styled mysticism is prominently felt within the piece when the guitarist solos against a pedal-point drone at the track's start before Edwin's fretless bass and Leigh's flute eventually recast it as a funky meditation. The bonus track is as tasty as the other two, so much so that one presumes it was omitted from the vinyl release purely on grounds of space issues.

November 2010