Dominion Post, 28-2-05
Friday, February 25
Reviewed by Simon Sweetman
The Ascension Band is the shared brainchild of Dave Edwards (experimental solo musician/writer and member of The Winter) and Nigel Patterson (The Chandeliers) and features a dozen musicians from Wellington’s underground and alternative music scenes. Members of While You Were Sleeping and Mr Sterile Assembly are also present - the band’s line-up including: two drummers, two bass players, two guitarists, two vocalists, keyboards, organ, and electronics.
Having performed at the Meatwaters Festivals in 2003 and 2004, the floating roster of musicians associated with the project allows for a slightly different incarnation at each performance. The band’s origins stem from Edwards wanting to create a big band to perform improvised or free music, which is still anchored in some way, by a structure.
This Fringe Festival performance has Ascension Band debuting “Evolution. It is tighter than the band’s previous sonic excursions, being essentially a symphony performed by a rock band - rather than merely a piece of free-noise. There is, however, ample room for the musicians to improvise within this framework.
Beginning with a loud burst of white-noise, Coltrane’s famous sheets of sound are here being torn to pieces by vicious bursts of feedback and heavy bass ruminations. The drummers however are silent. After a few short minutes they join the hunt, following as the band makes its first move towards a groove, but this is held up somewhat by a painfully slow series of spoken-word vocalisations. The timbre of the voice moves from slow, drawled speech to near-song and actual singing - but it really slows the feel of the piece.
The Ascension band works best when all of the members are busy - playing off one other, but also delighting in the incongruity of scrapes and scratches countering a vocal aria, or soft, purposeful grand piano.
But most often Ascension Band is far happier striking a more primal groove that most certainly owes a debt to the tripped-out cosmic space-jams of Santana or Sun Ra, but often comes just as close to sounding like The Stooges. The influence of punk and industrial music clearly present. The incongruity completes, as does the circle, when the piece concludes with another burst of noise, this time a choral affect - loosely conducted by Nigel Patterson - featuring the group members’ disparate, displaced voices.
-The Ascension Band’s ‘Evolution’
written by Baden on 2 Mar 2005
The Wellington Fringe Festival is choice. I never see as much stuff as I mean to see or go to the launch party like I always mean to. It sneaks up on you, this fest: just after the holidays but before the year has really started. Everything seems ages away in December and then suddenly it’s all there. Theatre, music, dance, people doing things on stilts and stuff like that.
I haven’t seen nearly enough of the Fringe this year, but I hear it’s been fairly successful across the board. Shows selling out and all that. I know that most of you guys missed the Ascension Band at Happy last week, so in the interests of making sure some of you get along next time, here is a selection of ready-made quotes for the band to use in their next promotional material.
“Imagine a Pixies song explained at length by Harry Partch.”
“With elements of punk, post-punk, jazz, classical, straight rock, opera and music hall, the Ascension Band are that rare thing: Something Wholly Other.”
“This is what Can might have turned out like had they ever gone flatting in Newtown.”
“The Ascension Band moves as one person: a person fit as a fiddle, sharp as a tack and mad as a snake.”
“The Ascension Band retain avant garde cred and still manage to rock harder than AC/DC.”
“Enticing. Exciting. Ethereal.”
“If you don’t think this is your thing, then you’re probably right. The music doesn’t want you anyway.”
“All id, no ego.”
“The Ascension Band can be justly proud of their performance. If that’s what people like this do.”
“Restraint is the key to the success of the performance. At one point I wanted to jump up and join in by plucking a string or two. My restraint was rewarded.”
“Evolution is a sprawling alternative experience for a wilted generation.” (Now THAT'S music criticism!)
“As far from reality TV, KFC ads and NZ Idol as it is possible to be without a time machine.”
I hope that gives you fullas some idea of what you missed. They’ve got a couple of shows left though, at the Newtown Community Hall. Check out their website at http://ascension05.tripod.com.
The Wellingtonian, 24-2-05
Ascending into controlled chaos
By TANE AIKMAN
FEEDBACK CHORALES, waterfalls of sound, cerebral climate change and shuddering skies alight with lightning. That’s what The Ascension Band are promising listeners at their Fringe Festival shows.
Perhaps more than any other act, The Ascension Band embodies the Fringe Festival’s slogan of “organised chaos”. The group, with between 13 and 15 members, is something like an orchestra – but not one Mozart would recognize. Trumpets, electric guitars, strings, keyboards, drums, voices, computers, a Hammond organ and more combine to produce “Evolution”, a 50-minute “electric symphony”.
Composer and conductor Nigel Patterson says the symphony has a structure, but within it is a lot of improvisation – hence the organised chaos.
“Evolution” is a mix of musical genres, including free jazz, contemporary classical, industrial, punk and noise rock. All the members have their own individual style and come from different background. Nigel says it has taken some time to blend them into a sum greater than the parts, but now thinks the band “fits together beautifully”.
Organiser and guitarist Dave Edwards says Wellington has a great avant-garde music scene, but one of the group’s aims is to bring in some new blood – though they do feature experienced avant-garde musicians like Nigel and Dave.
The Ascension Band formed in 2003 for Wellington’s Meatwaters Festival, getting their name from jazz great John Coltrane’s “Ascension”, a groundbreaking 40-minute piece that featured 10 musicians. Coltrane remains something of an inspiration, as Nigel says he’s liked by punk and jazz fans alike.
The bands’ shows will be recorded, and they hope to make an album out of them.