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Conspiracy of Equals

Conspiracy of Equals: Ariel

“Stasis in darkness.
Then the substanceless blue
Pour of tor and distances.”
Ariel: Sylvia Plath

Conspiracy of Equals is not a ‘band’ in the strict sense of the word.  What we have here is a ‘collective’ of musicians, a flexible pool of people who might play wider than this particular grouping.  There are no fixtures and fittings, except that Harry S. Fulcher, Aaron Standon, Pete Brandt and Marco Anderson all played together on the last Conspiracy of Equals CD released by Leo Records.  However, this quartet look like a band, behave and banter like a band and often actually play like a band.  Is a duck not a duck even when it’s a drake?  As if to prove the collectivism, Alex McGuire turns up on Ariel; a tall, thin raincoat-on-a-sunny-day man pursing his muse on an acoustic black scratched grand piano in amongst a ‘band’ that frequently becomes electric.

Equality is always a concept which struggles with reality.  To be equal is the great equation, the place where justice and definitions often add up to soft politics.  Ariel contains no such outcome.  Here the music has a strong hard centre.  A conspiracy is literally being played out before us.  None of this music is pre-planned, everybody composes everything instantly.  Whenever the ears respond to ‘the soloist’ they need to also comprehend the context.  The Ariel audience and the musicians are all hearing the same soundscape for the first time at the same time.

Harry S. Fulcher, famed sound engineer at Leo Records, the man who holds the mystery to the clarity of Sun Ra’s Springtime in Chicago (Leo GY 26/27) is tonight playing tenor and alto saxophones.  He also has an antique b-flat clarinet in the stand but never gets round to picking it up.  Sometimes Mr Fulcher transforms into a living breathing Dexter Gordon, such is the delicacy of his beautiful tenor.  Harry Fulcher has a sound like a declaration of love.  Constantly moving around the stage as if conducting matters, never at any point dictatorial, he is a musician with presence of purpose.  Both tenor and alto seek out stories rarely told in totally improvised settings; he has a kind of on-going refinement.  Before the gig he tells me that he was initially inspired to take up tenor after hearing one single phrase played by the late Jerry Underwood at the Bracknell Festival back in the 1970’s.  Harry S. Fulcher has been telling his own dark-down stories ever since.

Pete Brandt has a black pork-pie hat neatly balanced on his head.  What might be sharp can also be pragmatic; he is embracing his double bass as if it is the only thing left in the world.  He’s had a bad week, caught a cold, busted his bass pick-up.  The road to ruin looks straight and narrow, yet he is bowing chords and single lines with all the authority of a one man string quartet.  He and I have a shared appreciation of Barre Phillips bass work on Ornette Coleman’s Naked Lunch and it is not hard to hear the connection.  On Ariel Mr Brandt joins up the emerging discussion of equals like a non verbal negotiator.  No one should underestimate what is beneath the surface.

The bright red Premier drum kit in the middle of the stage looks brand new, it is in fact at least a quarter of a century old.  It’s Marco Anderson’s equivalent of one of those shining red sports cars kept persistently polished and serviced by the MG Owners Club.  Mr Anderson is at least 50% a rock drummer, so what? He brushes up the double snare drums with a time count that makes him a mathematician as well as a musician.  At Ariel the drums cut out the corners.  They are always cruising the action, driving everybody else’s ideas forward.  Mr Anderson not only displaces the beat but also the tension that segues through this whole conspiratorial encounter.  Tonight someone needs to do it.  Marco Anderson succeeds beyond measure. The equality of the shift from quartet to quintet is spinning this gig into previously uninvestigated places.  The bright red Premier drum kit is the nearest thing to home.

Alex McGuire has altered the state of play.  Where there was previously deliberate ambiguity in the harmonies he brings in the implications of the whole of the western music structure.  And although Mr McGuire literally gets his fingers inside the piano he is also constantly forming chords around parts which, in other circumstances, would never have known their own name.  The effect is both fraught with difficulties while at the same time soothed with tranquillity.  Suddenly a dark room is open to sunlight, at once you see everything yet are blinded by the experience.  Alex McGuire is a pianist par excellence, a man with reputation; he turns this conspiracy from being one distinct thing into something else.  And he does not look back.  Even the pastoral moments dictate change and implication.  Mr McGuire has to be dealt with.

Aaron Standon does the dealing.  He is an exemplary alto saxophone player.  He should be much better known than he is.  Part of the reason he is not is that he also plays devastating guitar, soprano sax, flute, electronics and life itself.  At Ariel he has no choice.  Mr Standon has to deal.  In contrast to Harry S. Fulcher, Aaron Standon hardly moves from his allotted spot on the stage.  The man stands fixed, staring into white light darkness, leaving the alto until last.  The new solid bodied guitar he is using tonight sound-shifts feedback in massive blocks of electronica.  This is not anything like ‘rock guitar’; at Ariel everything becomes sonic.  And when he is not playing you know at any moment great white noise is an ever present potential option.  Ironically it is only when Aaron Standon is actually playing saxophone is the Conspiracy momentarily free of the implications of electricity.  The power of the national grid to disturb the air, the head, the heart, the whole physicality of space is evidenced in this Ariel guitar.  It does not matter whatever else is said or done, this big, huge terribly beautiful eruption will not go away.

Conspiracy of Equals Discography

Conspiracy of Equals

Conspiracy of Equals

Released: 01/03/2006

Cat no: CDLR479

An electric amalgam of Bird Architects, Red Dispersion and Limbic System personnel captured live at the Aerial Centre Totnes and featuring the late Harry S Fulcher on saxes.

BUY NOW ›

Conspiracy of Equals Biography

Harry S. Fulcher, famed sound engineer at Leo Records, the man who holds the mystery to the clarity of Sun Ra’s Springtime in Chicago (Leo GY 26/27) is tonight playing tenor and alto saxophones.  He also has an antique b-flat clarinet in the stand but never gets round to picking it up.  Sometimes Mr Fulcher transforms into a living breathing Dexter Gordon, such is the delicacy of his beautiful tenor.  Harry Fulcher has a sound like a declaration of love.  Constantly moving around the stage as if conducting matters, never at any point dictatorial, he is a musician with presence of purpose.  Both tenor and alto seek out stories rarely told in totally improvised settings; he has a kind of on-going refinement.  Before the gig he tells me that he was initially inspired to take up tenor after hearing one single phrase played by the late Jerry Underwood at the Bracknell Festival back in the 1970’s.  Harry S. Fulcher has been telling his own dark-down stories ever since.

Pete Brandt has a black pork-pie hat neatly balanced on his head.  What might be sharp can also be pragmatic; he is embracing his double bass as if it is the only thing left in the world.  He’s had a bad week, caught a cold, busted his bass pick-up.  The road to ruin looks straight and narrow, yet he is bowing chords and single lines with all the authority of a one man string quartet.  He and I have a shared appreciation of Barre Phillips bass work on Ornette Coleman’s Naked Lunch and it is not hard to hear the connection.  On Ariel Mr Brandt joins up the emerging discussion of equals like a non verbal negotiator.  No one should underestimate what is beneath the surface.

The bright red Premier drum kit in the middle of the stage looks brand new, it is in fact at least a quarter of a century old.  It’s Marco Anderson’s equivalent of one of those shining red sports cars kept persistently polished and serviced by the MG Owners Club.  Mr Anderson is at least 50% a rock drummer, so what? He brushes up the double snare drums with a time count that makes him a mathematician as well as a musician.  At Ariel the drums cut out the corners.  They are always cruising the action, driving everybody else’s ideas forward.  Mr Anderson not only displaces the beat but also the tension that segues through this whole conspiratorial encounter.  Tonight someone needs to do it.  Marco Anderson succeeds beyond measure. The equality of the shift from quartet to quintet is spinning this gig into previously uninvestigated places.  The bright red Premier drum kit is the nearest thing to home.

Alex McGuire has altered the state of play.  Where there was previously deliberate ambiguity in the harmonies he brings in the implications of the whole of the western music structure.  And although Mr McGuire literally gets his fingers inside the piano he is also constantly forming chords around parts which, in other circumstances, would never have known their own name.  The effect is both fraught with difficulties while at the same time soothed with tranquillity.  Suddenly a dark room is open to sunlight, at once you see everything yet are blinded by the experience.  Alex McGuire is a pianist par excellence, a man with reputation; he turns this conspiracy from being one distinct thing into something else.  And he does not look back.  Even the pastoral moments dictate change and implication.  Mr McGuire has to be dealt with.

Aaron Standon does the dealing.  He is an exemplary alto saxophone player.  He should be much better known than he is.  Part of the reason he is not is that he also plays devastating guitar, soprano sax, flute, electronics and life itself.  At Ariel he has no choice.  Mr Standon has to deal.  In contrast to Harry S. Fulcher, Aaron Standon hardly moves from his allotted spot on the stage.  The man stands fixed, staring into white light darkness, leaving the alto until last.  The new solid bodied guitar he is using tonight sound-shifts feedback in massive blocks of electronica.  This is not anything like ‘rock guitar’; at Ariel everything becomes sonic.  And when he is not playing you know at any moment great white noise is an ever present potential option.  Ironically it is only when Aaron Standon is actually playing saxophone is the Conspiracy momentarily free of the implications of electricity.  The power of the national grid to disturb the air, the head, the heart, the whole physicality of space is evidenced in this Ariel guitar.  It does not matter whatever else is said or done, this big, huge terribly beautiful eruption will not go away. 

Conspiracy of Equals Reviews

Conspiracy of Equals: Ariel Centre


On 23rd June 2007 at the Ariel Centre in Totnes, Devon the collective known as the Conspiracy of Equals produce a gig out of the scheme of things.  I cannot remember ever having heard improvising musicians confronting the single problem of the integration of western harmony and sound as music as this quintet does tonight.  All five players are experienced improvisers.  I was with them prior to the concert; no one appeared unduly concerned about what might happen.  But something does; it is evident from the start that at this particular time and place, in these specific circumstances, chords, keys, octaves, melody, and volume all become distinct issues.  And no one on the bandstand solves the conundrum.  All five players deal with it; have the experience, the creativity, the substance and the willingness to worry the problem over and over again.  In so doing Ariel, almost by chance, becomes a real conspiracy, what equality can be put on sound?  This conspiratorial act of Ariel is a brilliant mesmerising document.

Steve Day