Ken Hyder

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Reviews of Ken Hyder


19/02/2009 David Grundy ~Eartrip Magazine

This is very special: first released in 1975 on Virgin Records, and, after being lovingly remastered from an audiophile vinyl transfer, re-issued by the rather fine Canadian label Reel Recordings, it finds Scottish drummer Ken Hyder fronting what one might call a free jazz quintet in an exploration of traditional Scottish music, and music which displays such influences. In a brief note, Hyder explains that the group arose partly in reaction to the way in which American jazz had so dominated the playing of Scottish musicians that they were overlooking their own heritage. But this wasn’t just a sudden burst of reactionary nationalism, for, though the aim was to “get back to these roots, and [to] play off the emotion of Scottish music, that feeling isn’t exclusive to the Celtic people. It’s there in the blues, in African music, jazz, street funk, and people’s music throughout the universe.” Hyder’s right, of course: on the first piece, the glorious dual lyrical flights of Davie Webster’s alto sax, and, in particular, John Rangecroft’s clarinet, build to a particularly rousing climax that, while certainly a lot ‘folkier’ than much British jazz, has definite African-American inflections. After all, I suppose, jazz is as much a ‘folk music’, an indigenous music as anything else – and free jazz arguably moved it even closer (or back) to these roots: just think of the New Orleans marching-band ethos in Albert Ayler’s work.
Maybe I’m just being a sentimental simpleton, a propagandist-softie, but I can’t help finding something immensely refreshing about the way in which this group’s free jazz doesn’t seem so much to be reacting to the various constraints of be- and post-bop (which were, of course, particularly pronounced in the rather conservative British scene), as to be bypassing them entirely, as if that’s just the way things are done, as if there is a folk tradition just waiting there to be re-connected with, a ‘universal song’ of the kind Ayler was talking about.
That just fills me with hope and a sense of possibility; yes, it is easy to sneer at, and yes, of course, it could be the excuse for some rather bad music – particularly of the ‘newage’/’ world’ variety. But Hyder knows this danger too, when (on his website), he talks about the “upbeat - or happy-milkmaid tastes of World-Music. Or worse, the ironed-out echo-saturated cosmic bliss appetites of the New Age.” And his own music challenges both those silly pigeonholes: the music is ‘new age’ in that maybe it evinces a belief that a new age could be entered, one which doesn’t simply wallow in misery and grime and gore, but is built on a changing yet resolved sense of community; and it is ‘world’ in that it is music made in the world, as all music it is, is open to the sounds coming through the window and heard across the bay and across the ocean, blaring and beseeching over the water and over the mountaintops.
It helps that it’s all just so well played. Take, for example, the double (double)-bowed basses of Lindsay Cooper and Marc Meggido, holding drones and imparting a particular kind of 1960s/70s free jazz solemnity over which the saxes can intone and incantate: a prime example is ‘Diddlin’ for the Bairns & Lament for Dairmid’ (one of several tracks in which the band reinterpret traditional pieces). Hyder himself provides an overpowering ‘drum salute’ which leads onto the wonderfully sonorous, measured mournfulness of the ‘Lament for Mal Dean’, in which the way the saxophone is played over the drone conjures the effect of a giant jazz bagpipe.
And by no means insignificant is the role of that most ancient medium of humanexpression: the voice. All five players occasionally add their voices to the collective cauldron, to stirring effect: on ‘Diddlin’ it sounds almost like Native American chanting, which reminds me of the similar, and extraordinary effects generated by on Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre’s 1969 ‘Humility in the Light of the Creator’ by the obscure George Hines. Elsewhere, the celebratory shouts of joy and screams verging on terror enter the collective swarm in a manner that feels entirely appropriate: it is clear that at those moments the players could not do other than give further strength to their instrumental utterances through the rising to sound from lung to throat to air.
As the track titles indicate, there’s quite a strong sense of lament and of yearning, as well as of (communal) celebration – but that’s only one side of the coin, as whip up to the frenzied celebrations of ‘Mrs Macleod Raasay & Soldiers’ Song’, Davie Webster’s ‘straight’ penny whistle melody already prodded into more adventurous territory by Hyder’s relentlessly fast drumming before John Rangecroft roars in truly ecstatic form. While there’s a sense of the manic about such sections, more often, the experience is intensely joyful, or intensely mournful, or intensely powerful in some incommunicable mixture of the two (is that not one of the great strengths of both ‘folk music’ and of ‘jazz’?). What I’m trying to say, I think, is that one frequently gets the impression of things being pushed into extremes which seem genuinely risen from a compulsion to create and express that which must be created and expressed – a compulsion, a necessity. And the reason for this – the reason Talisker’s playing feels as deeply felt as it does – is because it is informed by whole worlds of tradition and of communal feeling, not just from Scotland but from America and beyond. ‘Dreaming of Glenisla’: these ‘dreams’ are as real as they come.


18/12/2008 Sid Smith

Going Back to His Roots

With most jazzers of his generation using a mode of expression that was essentially American in nature, drummer Ken Hyder dug deep into his Scottish culture for inspiration and a change of direction. When it was released on Virgin’s Caroline label in 1975, the results didn’t sit well with many critics of the day. This might be down to the irreverent air created by the use of diddlin’ songs - a traditional form of Celtic scat singing - and Hyder’s tendency to adopt an unsettling dada-esque vocalese with a pronounced Scots twang.

Yet the original album is replete with gorgeous moments of languid serenity – the reverie of Davie Webster’s alto or the silky lines from John Rangecroft’s clarinet and tenor on the title track and the mournful “Lament For Mal Dean” overflow with warmth and passion.

The linkage between intertwining Celtic melodies and the fast-moving post-bop/ Ayler lines isn’t too much of a stretch. Elegiac jazz one moment, free-form jigs and reels the next, in bolting together two different traditions in such an unfettered manner, Hyder may have confused audiences of the day but created an album which still sounds startling and different.

We live in an age that nowadays thinks nothing of cross-cultural collaborations, but Ken Hyder got there before everyone else – only the culture he was exploring was not deemed hip enough for the jazz scene and not folky enough for those on the other side of the fence.

The original album comes with a bonus session from 1976 material impressive session from a year. Once again on a mix of original and traditional tunes, Rangecroft’s clarinet stands out as something ineffably sad but strangely uplifting.



10/12/2007 Dusty Groove

An unusual concept, but a great one too -- a project that dips back into older roots of Scottish music, and brings them forward with a free-thinking jazz approach! The group here is led by drummer Ken Hyder, and features work from Davie Webster on alto sax, John Rangecroft on tenor and clarinet, and both Lindsay Cooper and Marc Meggido on bass. At times, the tunes are quite spare, and almost folkloric in nature -- but at others, they're all-out avant jazz affairs, with a relatively free quality. A few numbers are traditional ones, re-arranged by Hyder -- and other tracks are originals


22/02/0008 Clifford Allen, All About Jazz

"The combination of stately minor-key melodies, droning basses, and loose flurries of percussion will certainly appeal to Ayler fans, but it is truly an incarnation of folk music from all over the world, an integration of Scottish, African and African-American traditions. This is a fine introduction to Hyder's work"


30/12/0007 Doug Schulkind's Favorites of '07 - WFMU Give The Drummer Some

Ken Hyder's Talisker
Dreaming of Glenisla
(Reel Recordings)
Sonic deluges of grandeur burst forth from this sublime record, first birthed in 1975 by the Scottish free-improv drum shaman Ken Hyder and blessedly resurrected this year by a new label out of Dundas, Ontario. Dedicated to reissuing long lost gems on disc, Reel Recordings is using pioneering techniques to infuse digital audio with the all the warmth and lifelike playback heard on original analog tapes. It's a noble effort, especially in the service of captivating works of beauty like Dreaming of Glenisla. Hyder's debut, it sounds for all the world like an Albert Ayler album released post-New Grass when the tenor alchemist was experimenting with a woodwind contraption called the chanter—the blown portion of Scottish highland bagpipes. The twin sax / twin bass lineup of Hyder's quintet creates a droning, cantatorial spiritsound one can imagine as the sound of Ayler's dreams.


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