Friday, 16 May 2008

PORTISHEAD: Small


It only took one Alexis Korner to open the box, this coruscating panoply of hitherto suppressed moods, byways, stratagems and jokes which came out of wanting to try to be rhythm and blues, and then it flowed out of the clubs, some of it straight into rock, other of it towards impure R&B, which in turn took in ska and nascent funk, and then yet more of it into jazz, this extraordinary round robin of musicians, loping from group to collective and back again, always imbueing this week's destination with the newest thing they'd learned from Prince Buster or Joe Zawinul or Archie Shepp, and they circled into wider and wider circumferences of plan and happenstance, into psychedelia and free improvisation and confrontational street theatrics, and some if they weren't careful/too careerist invented hard rock.

And the voices, too, not quite unlearning the torch, the voices of the women, where best to place their emotional suitcases in a terminal stretching from Bessie Smith to Mary Weiss, from Vera Lynn to Dusty? Those suburban voices who imbibed whatever plankton of grit might have been blown over the Atlantic, to refine or coarsen it, to enlarge or microshrink it, thus tremulous Faithfull to righteously howling Driscoll and then Miles, via Hendrix, got a toehold on this ever increasing circle and then so did Carla Bley and suddenly the loop was feeding back across to America and now everything was interactively possible...

So a blankly melancholic 3/4 one note guitar line over which she breathes memories of "Tennesse Waltz," the lamp flickering ever less frequently; inhaled closets of unforgettable wines, the feeling alive, "the wisdom that took me away from the bed," bouquets of glory and scents of forgiveness, the "she" who speaks of freedom ("'the way in' she said")...

The chimera collapses and we are in Henry Cow's 1973 with a piercingly calm, processed one note 'cello sample (Georgie Born trapped in a jam jar) and she lights up the mirror to mutual disgust: "Small, tasteless and flawed," and then, more with pity than contempt, "hoping to see, blinded like me - you tried to understand, but you're just a man, hoping to score - just like me." The veil of a Julie Covington awaits on the other side of the tanned door.

The lost thrill, the ceaseless attempts to pretend, the calamitous gulf between the him of then and whatever he is now, all crawling down to a blunted cigarette incapable of eating any moon; and so, into a mechanical 1969 R&B rapidly blasted apart by her Berberian antitonal choirs - the dissonances encapsulating her inability to land - and there is an Auger organ and a grumbling guitar; the organ doesn't solo as such but merely proceeds into intently intense discordant clusters, the machine winding down to explode.

Back, briefly, to a pastoral Twiggy 1976 of yieldless yearning - if only that 'cello would (be) pipe(d) down - before the ravaging combo thrust hurls itself back into the damaging picture; the guitar becoming increasingly a groaning, locked joint of malaligned ligaments mutually and frantically grinding each other down into abhorrent dust and after six and a half minutes the operator has no option save to turn off the switch. The hidden history of a noticeably green rock - algae, or did we let it grow into plutonium?