Digswell Duets

Lol Coxhill, 1978

I’d heard heard about Lol Coxhill’s Digswell Duets for so long—decades, at least—when I saw it in person at DustyGroove, I immediately plunked down the not-insubstantial amount they were asking, still not knowing what to expect. Sure, I could have easily go on youtube before taking the plunge, but who was I kidding? After all this time, Digswell was going to be mine.

Though not surprised, I found it a pointedly odd record. The two sides are about as different as the two figures on the cover. The first side is a collaboration between Coxhill (on saxophone) and Simon Emmerson on electronics, called the ‘Digswell Tape System’. It spools out like free-jazz-meets-frippertronics. The flipside is a no less abstract, but far more traditional meeting between Lol and pianist Veryan Weston.

Both are striking examples of the then-still-fresh British Free Improv movement, but I find myself wanting to consume them separately. Is Coxhill asking us to note the differences or similarities between the two sides? Are they supposed to be heard simultaneously, as two halves of a whole? (I doubt it, but I might try it, just once.) Perhaps though, I should try and play it through as it was intended, and give Digswell Duets time to reveal itself to me.

Heads

Osibisa, 1972

I often shop the new arrivals bin on the Dusty Groove website. From the time I lived in Chicago, they've been veritable resource of discovery—so much more than just a record store. Their sonic niche is not my specialty, so it's always fun to wade through what they have and see what catches my eye. One time, it was Osibisa.

I'd never heard of the band before, but the cover of their third record, Heads, will stop you in your record-flipping tracks. The typography instantly makes you think it's a prog-rock record, with echoes of Yes or Budgie. The warped painting is by Abdul Mati Klarwein, the same artist who gave us Miles Davis' Live Evil. The image is of the sweating, disembodied head of a flying elephant. To make things even weirder, each of the band members faces seem to be emerging from different parts of this demonic-looking Dumbo's face. With exactly that much information to go on, I had to see what Osibisa was all about.

For lack of a better term, they were a funk band. If you try and get beyond that, you end up needing a lot of hyphens. Though based in London most of the band hailed from Ghana, and their progressive-flavored jams shared some DNA with afrobeat. The more psychedelic edges of their tracks remind me of a more percussion-heavy Cymande. They also retain an African feel of call and response—the same one that also informs African American Gospel music. It all ads up to (ahem) a heady brew.