With a nod towards iconic sci-fi and intergalactic free jazz, 'Lost in Place' is the long-awaited follow-up to trumpeter-producer Reuben Lewis’ impressive 2018 studio album, Abstract Playgrounds with his Melbourne group I Hold the Lion’s Paw.
On his latest record, Reuben aims to conjure the spirit and twisted funk of Miles Davis’ On the Corner, filtered through the lens of Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time. The result is a wild sonic ride that feels simultaneously familiar and like nothing you’ve ever heard.
I Hold The Lion’s Paw create musical improvisation through assemblage – using the recording studio as a type of laboratory, a way of thinking about sound rather than performance.
Samples, loops, effects pedals, edits – every tool available. It’s here that decisions were made on what to put in, what to take out, and how it would all come together. The influences extend to Reuben’s all-encompassing production techniques.
“Lost in Place carries on the musical philosophy of I Hold the Lion’s Paw that grew from making Abstract Playgrounds but takes it to another planet in the process,” Reuben says.
“I started the group in 2016, essentially because I wanted to construct a musical playground where I could invite my closest friends into a live experiment that hoped to find hidden connections between composition and collective musical improvisation.
“Making Abstract Playgrounds was a process of documenting those interactions, capturing moments in extended play that brought the listener into our world as we played. I wanted to reimagine the sound of I Hold the Lion’s Paw – not simply the sound of the ensemble, but the pure recordings themselves.
“I wanted to dig deeper into the possibilities of studio production – done so successfully by artists such as Jon Hassell, Brian Eno, and Teo Macero – to break down each recorded performance into its constituent components and re-build them into something entirely new.”
Similarly, the lineup of this edition of I Hold the Lion’s Paw is eclectic. Lewis has drawn upon a range of talented musicians from Melbourne, Hobart, and Sydney, including saxophonist Cheryl Durongpisitkul, trombonist Jordan Murray, cellist Freya Schack-Arnott, voice artist Emily Bennett, bassist Tom Lee, guitarists Geoff Hughes and Julius Schwing, electric bassists Mick Meagher and David Brown, and drummers Ronny Ferella, Michael McNab and Maria Moles. Rather than playing set pieces, the musicians instead recorded their parts individually. Each contribution has been broken down, isolated and sampled, filtered through a maze of electronics, then re-assembled, creating a sum distinct from its parts.
“Lost is Place is still very much about world making, but my process in producing this record became more about using the studio as the key compositional tool rather than simply a means to capture what was happening,” he says.
“I’m very inspired by producers like Teo Mecero and musicians like Jon Hassell. I love how they craft otherworldly soundscapes out of all sorts of improvised material and still manage to maintain the magic of those improvised moments in the process.
“This ideal balance is something I explored deeply in making Lost in Place, both as an improviser and a producer, and have continued to explore in everything I do in the studio.”
There is a starkness to the music, best exemplified in the three-and-a-half-minute opening track – a trumpet fanfare is modulated and distorted, layered over electronic beats and synths.
As the album progresses, we hear subtle hints of reggae, splashes of Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time, elements of trance, nods to prog rock, gentle refrains, and riffs, avant-garde jazz, scraps of guitar, saxophone, trombone. The album is a mash-up – influences are put through a grinder, yet adventurous and experimental at heart.
“I think the starkness is in the expression or intention of the music rather than the tools used to make it,” he continues. “I needed to use every tool available to me to find my place within this sound world, and then use them all differently again to articulate that journey in a way that would let the audience join me here.
“On a more pragmatic note, I think the starkness comes from simply trying to stay open and responsive throughout the record making process. I didn’t start out with a plan for this record, it is instead the outcome of years of exploration, personal reflection and group play that I somehow managed to distil and bottle into 42 minutes.”
While Lost in Place is sequenced as eleven tracks, it is best approached as two unbroken flows of music, divided into Side A and Side B. The album’s title Lost in Place nods to the Sun Ra classic Space is the Place (as does the drenching of interplanetary synths throughout the album). The title is also a nod to the 1960’s sci-fi television series Lost in Space, and draws metaphorically from the Robinson family, bouncing around in space, dedicating each day (or episode) to finding home. The album’s individual track titles, when lined up, form an incantatory sound poem: finding place / place in space / losing place / rest in place / space in place / losing space (and so on).
More than anything, Lost in Place feels like a bold conceptual statement, a recording seeded out of doubt and uncertainty. “In toying with the mirrored words ‘place’ and ‘space’,” says writer Des Cowley in the album liner notes, ‘this album serves as a timely meditation on our growing need to navigate a path through overwhelming social, economic, and global turmoil, as we seek a place – even if temporarily – to land.’
“I am naturally drawn to art that leaves room for the audience to map their own journey on to what they are experiencing,” Reuben continues. “I wanted to take the audience on a trip with this album, but not necessarily tell them a story or direct them too explicitly on how they should experience the music.
“In a funny way, what I was really trying to do is make sense of what was going through my own head at the time. So, I hope that the music helps others do the same.
“These days, after losing count of days spent in lockdown, it feels less like a sanctuary ‘fixed in space’ and instead more of philosophy of making that generates a ‘place for space’ for whoever needs it. We all need a safe space to be open and vulnerable, I feel like making ‘Lost in Place’ made that space for me, and I hope it makes a ‘place in space’ for others too.”