THE WIRE – STEVE JANSEN “SLOPE”
REVIEWS INDEX – STEVE JANSEN IN SOUNDCHECK – Page 59
Steve Jansen has always been the silent but highly creative partner of his brother, David Sylvian, ever since the singer embarked on his post-Japan solo itinerary. Jansen is the master drummer whose fidgety rhythms spiderwalk all over Brilliant Trees and Gone To Earth, and who continues to partner David in the Nine Horses outfit with Burnt Friedman and on Sylvian’s recent tour. Now, it seems, as the author of this hugely impressive debut, Jansen is poised to enjoy his spell in the sun. Like Sylvian, Jansen sprinkles collaborators over his music like condiments. He is rarely photographed and maintains his low profile on Slope – all lyrics and vocals are contracted out to others: the elfin Anja Garbarek, the weary-voiced Tim Elsenburg of Sweet Billy Pilgrim, Joan Wasser of Joan As Policewoman, and the unmistakable tones of his own brother on three tracks. Theo Travis provides horn and flute, but the bulk of the music is Jansen’s own – a one-man show of multitracked dexterity. As well as drums, percussion and sampling, his pan-instrumental virtuosity stretches to playing guitars, piano, Rhodes and string arrangements. And there’s the sense that Jansen has paid close attention to every element of these songs, so that everything feels picked out in silverpoint, from the languid drums/vibes interplay of “Sleepyard” to the minute digital inflections of “December Train”, an urgent, sombre-hued instrumental.
Shorter tracks like “Gap Of Cloud”, “A Way Of Disappearing” and “Conversation Over” act as little concréte miniatures covering scene changes between the bigger song tableaux: Joan Wasser’s plucked violin gives “Ballad Of A Deadman” the feel of a koto blues; “Playground Martyrs”, which receives two versions on the CD, is pitched in the nostalgic ruminative register Sylvian’s been so good at of late. Slope has the expansiveness of late Talk Talk, the glittering precision of recent Bark Psychosis, and the immaculate sound-tooling properties of a Burnt Friedman. The quiet man is here to stay, and he’s turning up the volume.