AMN Reviews: Ward / Verhoeven / Serries / Roberts – Imaginary Junction (2020; A New Wave of Jazz)

There is a certain style of modern free improvisation that I will call open-space improv. This style involves not only non-repeating structures and themes, but allows the music to have generous autonomy along the sparse/dense, loud/quiet, and extended techniques axes. There is no better label for open-space recordings than Belgium’s A New Wave of Jazz, which has been putting out numerous offerings in this style for the last several years.

To that point, Imaginary Junction is a collaboration between pianist Martina Verhoeven, acoustic guitarist and label founder Dirk Serries, saxophonist Cath Roberts, and flutist / clarinetist Tom Ward. The album consists of two long improvisations recorded remotely over the Internet on July 18, 2020, with two members each in the UK and Belgium.

An immediately-recognizable feature of the tracks is how each instrumentalist offers short accentuations and micro-themes, each ostensibly disjointed from what the others are playing. And yet these contributions go together, quite easily when the playing is quiet and sporadic, but even when all four come together in a more assertive stance.

There is no dedicated percussionist, though Roberts is credited with objects while Verhoeven and Serries strike their instruments with authority. They also employ scratching and rubbing of strings. Ward and Roberts offer up breathy atmospherics. These elements combine to create a virtually continuous sense of percussion, even if the lines are shared across the group.

But the high points, to these ears at least, are when Ward, Verhoeven, and Serries are going full-bore with their loosely-structured attack, and are then joined by a loud and angular baritone sax theme from Roberts. These information-dense moments never get old.

There is a certain Zen to the aforementioned open-space improv style that involves (if not requires) simultaneous active and passive listening. On Imaginary Junction, this quartet has managed to express itself in a way that stimulates both the conscious and subconscious minds. The result is an unusual and intriguing recording that easily holds up to multiple listens.

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