Hilary Jeffery

Solo Trombone & Electronics

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Hilary Jeffery popped over the pond from England to Holland in the '90s to study with James Fulkerson, an American trombonist and composer of the avant-garde persuasion. While few members of the latter genre seem shy about fiddling with electronics, a case could be made regarding the intense attraction more than a few representatives of their instrumental category have for this combination -- and it better be long enough to get a trombone in it. George Lewis, Julian Priester, J.A. Deane, and Nicolas Collins are other trombonists who have combined their instruments with some form of electronic music, sometimes in the context of solo performances. Collins also lived in Amsterdam for several years. The trombone can sound like a million different things, as could anything even remotely involving electronics. That understood, it is still reasonable to suggest that, in general reality, only a select listening audience is willing to participate in the adventure of a solo trombone performance, with or without the presence of electronic equipment, processes, or associated compositional methodology. One of the greatest recordings of solo trombone of all time is by one of Jeffery's fellow countrymen, the great Paul Rutherford, entitled The Gentle Harm of the Bourgeoisie and originally released on vinyl in 1976. Something that the two efforts have in common -- and they are more different than they are alike -- is a sense of political and social statement in the titles. The program of Jeffery's Solo Trombone & Electronics includes "Freedom Fried," "Demonocracy," and both "Oil Hell" and "Hell Oil." While neither Rutherford nor Jeffery's actual music makes direct political comments, sentiments concerning the geopolitical crisis seem to be shared. Musical matters nonetheless differentiate the two recordings with the solidity of the quarter of a century that has passed. Not to belabor the comparison but to use the widely heard (at least by this audience) Rutherford recording as a directional signal, Jeffery does not present the same sort of in-your-face technical attack on the instrument. Extended techniques on this marvelously expressive instrument have always been shared by the players; this is as true concerning Jeffery as it would be of a New Orleans jazz performer from 1915.

Interest in avant-garde composition, however, has very much of a stylistic impact on Jeffery's performances, that and the inevitable actuality of the electronics that become engaged. As the program proceeds he gets deeply into sustaining moods that border on overwhelming. The intensity is impressive, as is the sense of conclusion to these pieces, each lasting somewhere between five and ten minutes yet managing to play a trick with the listener's sense of time. Some seem to be going on much longer; others that are hardly brief seem to vanish back up the bell as soon as they have started.

There is no description of technically how the electronic sounds used were achieved. It was a superb advantage, although perhaps not one so easily duplicated, to audit this performance for the first time on a strung-together, borrowed computer setup while multi-tasking. This was done out of desperation; it was not some careful attempt at creating sympathy with Jeffery's project. Prior to the first listen it was not understood that many of the electronic sounds could be considered similar to the weird claptrap that accompanies various other functions on a strange computer, not always intentionally. Other aspects sound like digital distortion, typical of many relationships involving trombone and electronics, the classic brass instrument detailing a background of beauty while the little electronic guy squawks "When do we get there?" The previously mentioned Priester even performed on an electronics-soaked track entitled "You'll Know When You Get There." Jeffery is there, communicating in a spirit so properly paced that the physical nature of combining this particular horn with electronics, so often a matter of knobs and faders, in itself seems comforting. That in turn could explain why so many trombonists perform in this way. Jeffery also does some fine playing in several Dutch groups, and can be heard on Tobias Delius' Apa Ini CD.

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