Review: Tom Jackson + Benedict Taylor – Songs From Badly-Lit Rooms

When one views the world through an improvisatory lens, location is as much a musical acquaintance as the players themselves. Songs From Badly-Lit Rooms is an adoring exploration of space as a personality; one that uproots the illusion of surrounding architecture as an invariable, as Jackson and Taylor continually strike upon the little curiosities and hidden details that comprise a room’s distinctive acoustic imprint. The conversation between the pair is one of confidence and friendship, rich in an energy and fearlessness that enables them to try anything and persistently succeed; thus it is the space around them that acts as the unknown, and while Jackson and Taylor always sound intimately entwined with eachother, there’s an aura of mystery about the way they speak out to the surrounding walls, and an unpredictability about the way the walls speak back.

Viola and clarinet are the instrumental voices at work: brash string scrapes loaded with phantom overtone, tip-toeing woodwind breaths that slink up and down, elasticated bowed glissandos pinging off into the upper registers, whimpers and trills that sound like some frenzied, babbling turkey. The duo are ceaselessly engaged with eachother and their instruments, tugging both pace and volume around like a limp rag doll – the slower, more mumbling stretches feel taut with a tension, pre-empting an inevitable slingshot of excitement that sends both musicians fizzling into all sorts of timbral fireworks.

But the presence of surrounding space is thick; on “Dank cellar below Tuskar Street”, they find themselves shoved to the back of the room as a reverb that smudges their movements, and their sounds become encrusted with the dust and dampness of the space on their vast journey from the instruments to the listener’s ears. But the most prominent impact – and one that grows in potency as the album progresses – is the effect of location on improvisatory behaviour. Taylor and Jackson sound as though they’re cowering within the grand space of “One of the dead rooms at Somerset House” – with little high-frequency whines sobbing into the emptiness – while on “A Quiet New Cross Squat” the sounds become more indulgently dissonant, as though bent and crooked under beams and cruelly inclined ceilings. It’s warming and fascinating, and while the tracks themselves fill the curious imagination with thoughts as to what each of these spaces may have looked like, the brief gaps of silence in between bring to mind two friends traipsing cities in search of distinctive and interesting spaces, viola and clarinet in tow.