Album Appreciation: Alive in the Empire by Agile Experiments

Improvisation is never far from the top of my list when people ask me what sort of music I like. Of course they then also want to know what genre of music that is. I write a music blog, so surely I should be able to say what sort of sounds I like.

Well probably any cursory glance of either the archives of this website, or the ‘band cloud’ that appears either on the side bar or below (depending on how you access this) would tell you that this is not a simple matter of genre… and nor should it be. Sometimes I think that there’s too much liking things for the sake of it. Yes I like some really difficult and relatively inaccessible music, I like things from the sonic underground, from the ‘psych scene’ – whatever that is, but I also think the Girls Aloud ‘Biology’ album is pretty good too… as is Arvo Pärt’s ‘Tabula Rasa’.

Which sort of brings me to Agile Experiments (I’ll bet you didn’t see that coming)… because this music is on some levels rather indescribable as well… and so is the perfect fodder for what I write about here.

To go back to the beginning, improvisation is the key here; and where previous albums (and I look at the back catalogue here) are essentially fragments from different performances by different musicians, the one constant being drummer Dave De Rose who is the convener of this project. This time the release ‘Alive in the Empire’ is the product of one performance at the London Jazz Festival in 2019; featuring John Edwards (Double Bass), Dan Nicholls (Synthesisers, Samples & FX), George Crowley (Saxophone & FX), Dave De Rose (Drums).

OK so the words ‘jazz festival’ might give you a clue to the direction of this music… but having said that this would be a broad and free interpretation of jazz… an avant garde area within a complex venn diagram of jazz perspectives, with a heady inclusion of experimental and noise too.

This is music that has been plucked out of a varied yet fruitful sonic orchard, seven fragments of a performance which take you on a journey into the unknown, parts of a continuum that keep you constantly guessing, even when you’re going through them for the fifth or sixth time.

In a sense there’s nothing to grab onto here… even the structures of De Rose’s drums and Edwards’ double bass cannot be relied on to provide a regular rhythm to guide you through. Instead you have to trust the musicians just as they have to trust each other… and that’s the nub of what makes this such an exciting set.

You see the music I like the most is that which feels on the edge of chaos… that feels like it could collapse in on itself at any moment, and yet just manages to keep it together through the skill and/ or attitude of those playing it. That’s why Killing Joke are my favourite band, people who’ve been achieving amidst this chaos for over forty years because they are four very different people who trust each other to keep the others just in the box.

This is certainly the case here as each of the four develop intricate lattices of sound… sometimes powerful, sometimes fragile… but always changing. This is music which is pure and raw, but also challenging and strangely verdant… music which excites and musters emotion in a almost indescribable way… yet is about the journey and not the destination.

So when you get to the end of listening to this album you feel as if you have been everywhere and nowhere… but it’s not about the beginning and the end, but the experience… an experience which is unlikely to be the same twice… and here the bottom line is again that of trust. Trust the musicians like they trust in each other… leave yourself in their hands… let them take you to the edge… the further out you go the better it will be… be agile with these experiments… I guarantee that you won’t regret it.

‘Alive in the Empire’ is available now on vinyl and download here.



Thanks very much for reading my blog, I really appreciate this. I write it as a labour of love to help me enjoy music, and to give something back to the many talented people who put out these incredible sounds.

To make it as enjoyable as possible for others I do pay extra so there are, for instance, no ads on these pages; but it would be great if the blog could pay for itself.

So, if you’ve really enjoyed your visit here and have found some music that you think is amazing, why not buy me a coffee (I write in independent cafés a lot) by clicking the “make a donation” button on the sidebar or footer depending on your device.


Follow The Fragmented Flâneur on Facebook, Instagram (@fragmentedflaneur), Twitter (@fragmentflaneur) and bandcamp

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s