Ben Marc - Glass Effect Music Album Reviews

Ben Marc - Glass Effect Music Album Reviews
The London multi-instrumentalist and producer’s debut solo LP is subtle and oblique, rejecting the ordering logics of containment by melding house, jazz, classical, and electronic music.

In 2020, as part of a “Classic Album Sundays” night at Camden Town’s Jazz Café, Ben Marc joined a suite of jazz musicians and collaborators to perform a live reimagining of DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing....., the groundbreaking 1996 instrumental hip-hop project comprised almost entirely of samples from funk, psychedelia, rock, and ambient vinyl. Marc, who was a music student at Trinity College London at the time of its release, remembered the album from his work upstairs at the Trocadero HMV, seeing in its innovative patchworks—Metallica, Marlena Shaw, Pekka Pohjola, Tangerine Dream, Björk—some of the formal structures of jazz.

Two years later, Marc’s debut solo LP Glass Effect is similarly oblique, hypnotic, and unresolved, rejecting the ordering logics of containment by melding house, jazz, classical, and electronic music. In different hands, attempts at genre experimentation can present at once as insecure skill showcase or rejectionist muddle, but Marc evinces a heads-down collection that is evocative and maintains its integrity. Glass Effect is a subtle record, filled with electronic drifts and rushes atop signature bass, in which Marc tries to find calm.

Raised in Birmingham and the Caribbean, Marc (né Neil Charles) has worked with Barbadian-British saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, Ethio-jazz multi-instrumentalist Mulatu Astatke (with whom Marc toured for over 10 years), and grime MC Dizzee Rascal, who joined Marc on the 2020 EP Wait. Marc seems comfortable marshaling transdisciplinary textures, with stated influences including J Dilla’s instrumental hip-hop, Machinedrum’s electronic layering, and Sun Ra’s interplanetary jazz assemblages.

Marc’s sort of anti-primitivist Jon Hassell formation combines highly globalized, capitalist stimuli—travels in Ibiza, London, and Japan are cited in the album notes—without granting them profundity. There is a bit of Mount Kimbie’s debut Crooks & Lovers in the record, its lack of ego or anxiety, but also a tenseness, best seen in “Jaw Bone,” the distortion-heavy, alto-sax medley. How these experiences and affects collide with a declared theme of Black male “resilience” is not clarified by the presence of ideology or through a subversion of form. Instead, it seems Marc is seeking answers in the feeling that emerges from a creative practice, in the comfort of work as a grace that protects the besieged subject and opens them up to kindred others in turn. This is perhaps clearest in the title track, a bouncy street lullaby of piano, synths, and guitar, too propulsive to be bedroom air space, but too soothing to let Marc’s demons out.

Yet the energy simmers, expressed through telegraphed build-ups: xylophone and echoey yelps cascading into synths and electric guitar in “Sometimes Slow”; clappity steps and birdsong giving way to guitar, cello, and strings in “Mustard.” There is an edge here, too. In “Dark Clouds,” Marc and Nigerian-British poet Joshua Idehen play “buccaneer,” navigating stormy waters and throwing all of England aboard—frumpy parliamentarians, Kensington pearl-clutchers, and an elitist London jazz scene confronted by the anti-colonial politics of its new wave. Idehen huffs over brassy broken-beat: “Check me bringing the summer to your borough/…Check me in a hoodie/Shokoto and boba/Check me in my Sunday best and trainers/Street scholar/Chirsping on your sons and daughters.” This narrative is played straight and playfully, its end result somehow heartening, not despairing.

It is the classical, though, that Marc returns to in this collaboration and the others on the album, citing a training that folds virtuoso tendencies into a larger whole. In a recent interview, he describes working with vocal soloists as an orchestral effort, recalling labors late into the morning hours with Judi Jackson to co-design the soaring “Give Me Time.” (“Healing ain’t over night,” she insists.) This particular vision yields the standout “Keep Moving,” where the gorgeous trilling of Attica Blues vocalist MidnightRoba is buttressed by Luigi Grasso on flute and by Marijus Aleksa, the Lithuanian drummer who plays on most of Glass Effect.

With the Endtroducing..... set, as with this record, Marc shows that jazz conjunctures are met outside the individual, an artist’s self-effacement becoming an eddy for contemporary collaborators and their historical influences. There is an empiricism behind this, as if Marc were testing the harmonies and polyrhythms, improvising and refining to better understand their formal complements. He is not tepid in doing so, and the result is assured—the pensiveness forming an emotional tissue that connects the strands. The record’s complexity reveals itself over several listens, its slow-motion quietude opening up into a not-quite-happiness; what might be described as flow, or else, focus.

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Ben Marc - Glass Effect Music Album Reviews Ben Marc - Glass Effect Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Wednesday, May 04, 2022 Rating: 5

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