Tetherdown: First Flight
Slowcraft / Trace Recordings

One's already strong impression of Tetherdown's First Flight goes up a few notches when one becomes aware of the details involved in its production. Tetherdown members Mark Beazley (electric bass), Anne Garner (vocals, flute, keyboards), and James Murray (processed guitars) convened at the Slowcraft Studio in August 2015 with no prior preparation and proceeded to lay down the album's four settings in a single go. What you therefore hear on Tetherdown's debut is exactly what went down on that particular day sans edits or overdubs.

From the recording's first moment, it's apparent that the project is one democratically shared, and in these four meditative soundscapes Murray's shuddering guitar textures and Beazley's bass undercurrent blend seamlessly with Garner's evocative flute playing and keyboards. The material drifts, yes, but it does so with conviction and purpose, and the interactions between the participants exemplify an undeniably strong connection. During the reverential “Pitch Roll and Yaw,” for example, the transition in emphasis from Murray's guitar to Garner's piano happens so fluidly one might imagine it had to have been scripted beforehand.

In addition, “Wingbeats,” though clothed in pastoral garb, exudes a mysterious quality that subtly hints at turbulent goings-on beneath the music's placid surfaces. During the dronescape “Thermals,” willowy flute extemporizations provide a pleasing counterpoint to the metallic smolder of guitar. Each setting is in the ten-minute range, which affords the three space and time to ruminate and explore; yet while they do just that, the material never lapses into aimlessness.

Garner's voice is so captivating, I'll confess I was hoping that the recording might include a verse or two sung by her, but her wordless, ethereal enhancement is so subtly woven into the material it could be missed altogether. That might not have been an unwise move, however, on the trio's part, given how much her singing so totally dominates any musical setting on which it appears. Put simply, had First Flight featured Garner singing as she does on Be Life, last year's exquisite solo album, it probably would have upset the balance too greatly in her direction for a collaborative project such as this one.

May 2016