issue 12 :: July 2007

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REVIEW: Jim Denley

"Through Fire, Crevice & the Hidden Valley" CD [Splitrec]

reviewed by Josh Ronsen

Denley plays saxophone, flute and electronics in the under-rated Machine for Making Sense (their CD on OO Discs is a necessary listen) and lately has been releasing solo and duo recordings on his on his Splitrec label. “Through Fire...” documents a fifteen day walkabout through an Australian national park, recording, from solar power, around campfires, in various crevices and presumable in the hidden valley of the title.
Hidden Valley? Why is is hidden? How did he discover it? What unseen secrets lie within it? The opening track, “Hidden Valley,” give us few clues, except it is full of chirping birds. Like most of the album, environmental sounds abound, and Denley plays off of them, or in this case, through then, snaking long alto saxophone tones through the twerps and tweets. Birds appear throughout the record, as well as (camp?) fires and flowing water, blurring distictions between field recordings and performance.Did he try to find the perfect music to fit each location, or did he play whatever he wanted? Or is the perfect music whatever that location inspires in Denley?
In “Monolith” (see our 2001 Theory), after exploring high-pitch squalls, more lessons for his bird friends, Denley plays quietly under a jet that passes overhead, save for a few loud peeps. A Pan-Am jet, perhaps? The low rumble of the jet continues on and on becoming lower and lower, softer and softer, making me wonder if it is a jet, or recorder trickery? But most of the record appears to be straight recordings, highlighting his extended techniques and rich tone.
The CD contains one handwritten diary entry, and the web page has a You Tube movie of photographs taken on the trip (not the photographs used here), but I couldn’t help thinking the questions most people will ask: was he bored? lonely? Was the saxophone a relief, a burden, an anchor, an albatross? Did he meet anyone on his journey? How did his musical mind change away from the bustle of modern life?


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Josh Ronsen
joshronsen (ate) yahoo (dote) com
2001 Brentwood
Austin, Texas 78757 USA