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. Conjuring the spirit and twisted funk of Miles Davis’ On the Corner, filtered through the lens of Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time, this latest offering is a wild sonic ride that feels simultaneously familiar and like nothing you’ve ever heard.
As Reuben explains, “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.”
This is musical improvisation as 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.
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.
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.
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.’