Sleeping Dogs Lie 27: Annea Lockwood, Gavin Bryars with Tom Waits

Aboriginal didgeridoos, ‘conch shells’ (shells belonging to Hindu musical tradition, often played during religious ceremonies), ‘waterphones’ (water instruments, used in ambient music and derived from Tibetan musical instruments), and (but not only) ‘pod rattles’ (percussion instruments from Zimbabwe). All of this, together with more classic instruments (trombone, oboe) and some unusual ones (clarinet-contrabass), was skillfully organized to articulate the varied frame of this improvisational ensemble, centered around Annea Lockwood’s strong personality. Hypnotic sequences, rarefied and full of mysticism, dream-like atmospheres and breaths. When the contemporary nature of sounds is mixed with ancient energies, the results can be very interesting: it’s enough to shy away from new age excesses and pretentious spiritualities.

“Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” late minimalist, 74-minute piece for orchestra and tape has had, and continues to have, a near-legendary effect on its audience. It’s the rare work created specifically to tug gently at one’s heartstrings that actually does, and not subtly, either. It starts with a found recording of a homeless man singing a halting, simple melody looped over and over. Then Bryars builds and buttresses this with a full orchestra brought in incrementally, from the first carefully placed short pendulum string sweep to, 10 minutes from the end, the gravelly-voiced singer Tom Waits joins in. It’s an obvious but effective work–appealing to all the basics of our emotional nervous system, but still tragically beautiful.

Jesus’ blood never failed me yet
Never failed me yet
Jesus’ blood never failed me yet
There’s one thing I know
For he loves me so …

01. Annea Lockwood: “Thousand Year Dreaming” (from “Thousand Year Dreaming”, Nonsequitur/What Next Recordings, 1993)
02. Gavin Bryars with Tom Waits: “Tramp And Tom Waits With Full Orchestra” (from “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet”, Point Music, 1993)