The Hillside Mechanisms
Babel ****
Roland Ramanan, the trumpeter son of the influential West Indian trumpeter and poet Shake Keane to whom he paid tribute on the 2002 Emanem album Shaken, has with this trio record laid down a substantial footprint all of his own. Vole, on the record that’s Ramanan, guitarist/electronicist Roberto Sassi, and drummer Javier Carmona, in their band name sound as if they collect together as one small creature, but the album artwork with its mechanical drawings makes one think not of a small being but instead of a futuristic machine as the artwork has some extraordinary cylindrical apparatus depicted in diagram form. Ramanan, who is also known for his longstanding work with the London Improvisers Orchestra, as well as his bands Swift and Wooden Tops, was inspired early in his career by the drummer and educator John Stevens at a Search and Reflect workshop. In the album note to this Babel records release, one of the distinguished label’s finest, speaking of the Hillside in the title Ramanan refers to the road where the “laboratory” of drummer Carmona’s house has acted as a hub for musicians such as himself and guitarist Sassi, who has also created the artwork, “passing through”. What they concocted musically via this meeting of minds was to draw on pure improvisation and composed music. Ramanan, speaking further of “interesting interlocking rhythm structures as well as a certain gritty edge to it”, has an appealing tone, a little reminiscent of Don Cherry’s but also with the wildness of the European avant garde, say early Enrico Rava. There’s also a tenderness on a tune such as ‘No Knees’ that says hit the replay. An album that’s both free jazz and improv (sometimes it’s easy to say one or the other, harder to claim both), and to my mind this doubling indicates width and vision in both performance and improvisational approach. Co-operatively written the eight tracks with the unobtrusive electronic textures on ‘Tim’s Frosties’ just one of the ways the music manifests itself, the exploratory forays of Ramanan’s here and on other tracks, and prevailing drums, a little like the Sunny Murray approach, add up to an excellent album. 

Stephen Graham
Vole, top