It's the personnel on Woven Entity's self-titled debut album that first catches one's attention. In essence, the quartet's a multi-limbed rhythm section comprised of Lascelle Gordon (percussion, electronics), Patrick Dawes (percussion), Peter Marsh (bass), and Paul May (drums). The group came into being rather surreptitiously in 2010 when, having repeatedly crossed paths at various gigs, Gordon, Dawes, and May convened and discovered a powerful rapport developing between them. The individuals involved bring ample experience to the project: Lascelle's career has included stints as a DJ, membership in Brand New Heavies and Heliocentric World, and session work for Mr Scruff, Beth Orton, and others; Dawes has played with the likes of The Herbaliser, Groove Armada, and Richie Havens; May's worked with Alexander Hawkins and Tim Hodgkinson; and while Marsh has played with Lol Coxhill, Steve Williamson, and David Toop, he's spent much of his recent time playing with May in outfits such as Clang Sayne and Sonnamble, and as a formal duo whose debut album Falling More Slowly appeared in 2013. Of course, it goes without saying that a forty-eight-minute album featuring nothing else but bass, percussion, and drums might have limited commercial appeal, no matter its artistic merits, and Woven Entity wisely decided to include contributions from a trio of guests on the album. In that regard we have Ben Cowen adding keyboards to three cuts, Alan Wilkinson playing alto sax on one, and Julie Kjaer adding alto sax and flute to three.
The spirits already feel as if they're meeting when the brief stage-setter “C358X” opens the album with exotic flurries of flute and rattles, after which the more substantial “Naked Eye” takes flight on a dense, free-form wave of balafon, bass, drums, and bongos. The material gradually develops into a thrusting groove whose acoustic bass-driven swing Kjaer rides with some acrobatic flute playing of her own. With the twang of a Jew's harp added to a panoply of talking drum, rattles, and metallic percussion, “So Black Dada” delves into the funkier side of things, though turns affectingly ruminative with the appearance of Wilkinson's alto sax solo. “Point Noir” gravitates in an Easterly direction when Kjaer's flute drifts across a funky flow heavy on bass, electronics, shakers, and hand percussion. In a touching gesture, the group dedicates “Trissh” to the late Trish Keenan, though no one likely would mistake Woven Entity's slow-motion funk groove for something by Broadcast. At ten minutes, “Earth/Crisis” is the album's longest track and thus affords the group ample room to work through a number of episodes, from the free-form abstractions of the opening on through Kjaer's blustery sax-driven middle section and the primal Afro-jazz rumble with which it ends.
Woven Entity's name is clearly apt, given that the focus is generally on the collective sound generated by the four members. While there are moments when an individual player does move to the forefront (such as Mays during “Who's Who” and Marsh in the restrained meditation “This Day Will Come”), more often than not the focus is on all four. Comparisons to The Art Ensemble of Chicago are both understandable and inevitable, considering the degree to which certain passages could be mistaken for a prototypical improv by the legendary Chicago quintet; certainly both groups enrich their respective musics with a broad range of instruments, conventional and otherwise (whistles, duck calls, wind-up toys, et al.), and “This Day Will Come” not only sprinkles bird and animal sounds across its electronics, harmonica, and percussion but also threads into the mix what sounds like someone sawing. With that in mind, Woven Entity was perhaps wise to not feature the playing of its guests throughout, as doing so might have made the connections between the bands all the more evident. Similarities aside, Woven Entity's debut outing is an infectious affair whose freewheeling explorations are easy to get drawn into.