Antipodean multi-instrumentalist, composer and experimentalist Jim Denley has been playing the flute since 1969 and has a formidable reputation in his home territory, not to mention an extensive resumé.
Denley has a preoccupation with location: as there is no flute tradition in his native Australia, his aim – according to his biography – is to situate his music within a global outlook, and takes is cues from flute traditions from other parts of the world, spanning Europe, Papua New Guinea, the Far East and the Amazon, and, in particular, the flute traditions of the Solomon Islands. There is always something to learn: with a background very much rooted in western music, particularly of the post-punk period and beyond, the fact that there are specific regional flute traditions is something I was unaware of. I suspect this is not something unique to me.
Denley is clearly immersed in his research of the traditions which inform his work, in particular this album, with the album’s second longform track, ‘For Celina Rokona’ dedicated to a flautist from Ataa in North East Malaita, who played the Sukute, described as ‘a curious combination of flute and percussion’. Who knew that the flute had such a lengthy and diverse, pan-continental history, or that there were so many hybridisations across the continents? This does perhaps explain why the two nineteen-minute compositions on Cut Air sound precisely nothing like any flute I’ve ever heard.
I’m unclear, after listening to Cut Air, if my knowledge and understanding of these various traditions is any more advanced. Aside from moments of fluttering, tweeting, looping harmonics much of Cut Air consists of quiet. It consists of interloping notes which quiver and quail, tremble and tremor. The air isn’t explicitly cut, but subject to soft, massaging vibrations which alter its movement, softly, subliminally, imperceptibly. This is not an immediate or direct work, and it’s very much an album which requires a degree of patience as it hangs, unobtrusively, in the background.