Roger Turner (drums, London) has been playing, touring, and recording with countless other stellar musicians since the early seventies. Arthur Bull (guitar, Digby Neck, NS) has been playing, touring, and recording with countless other stellar musicians since the mid-seventies. Scott Thomson (trombone, Montreal) was born in the mid-seventies and has been playing, touring, and recording with countless other stellar musicians only during this millenium. It is a new trio founded on Arthur and Roger’s experience playing as a duo, and Scott’s November 2017 residency in Halifax through suddenlyListen, where he joined them. Monicker music has been and will be improvised. The trio released its first record, Spine (Ambiances Magnétiques 246), in late 2018, and its second record, Libr’aerie (Bug Incision), in early 2020.
Read Benoit Hughes’s description of Libr’aerie from the Bug Incision catalogue:
If there was such a thing as a “perfect” Bug Incision album, it might be possible to argue that this is it. Libr’aerie, the second release from the short-lived Monicker trio, is a glorious, raw, kinetic, funny, and riotous pile of minutes, placed firmly within the historical trajectory of “free improv”, that multifarious genre with birth origins in Europe’s early 1970s. The music itself can attest to this claim, but to sweeten the pot, we have here the presence of legendary British percussionist Roger Turner, who, even on his earlier LP outings on Incus and Caw, presented a sort of percussionist’s platonic ideal for what it means to authentically engage with this approach to music making; his playing consistently displays the rare combination of technical prowess, vulnerability, and moment-to-moment discovery that can be achieved in this realm. Aiding and abetting this master are two Canadians that should be familiar to anyone with an ear cocked to our fertile scene. Scott Thomson, a returning Bug Incision Records artist, is one of the country’s preeminent trombonists and a true virtuoso whose broad range of abilities has allowed move easily between work with the likes of Lori Freedman, John Oswald (as Joust), Jean Derome, and the Ratchet Orchestra. Guitarist Arthur Bull has kept a lower profile over the years, but has been involved with the key players in the Canadian avant-garde since the early ‘70s, logging hours with the under-heralded Bill Smith Ensemble, Michael Snow and CCMC crew, Paul Dutton, and John Heward (whose art adorns this cover). This recording captures an intimate performance from the trio’s 2018 tour of eastern Canada, at a small bookshop in Quebec City.
Read Stuart Broomer’s glowing review of Spine.
Among [Arthur] Bull’s international associations is one formed in 2002 with drummer Roger Turner, a charter member of the British school of free improvisation. Turner’s sometimes machine-like approach can be traced directly to an early appreciation of the brilliant precision of Dave Tough, the drummer who propelled the rise of Chicago jazz over 90 years ago. Anyone who imagines free improvisation to be somehow vague in its contours simply hasn’t heard Roger Turner. In 2018 Bull and Turner expanded their duo with the addition of trombonist Scott Thomson for a tour (as Monicker) that stretched from Southern Ontario to Nova Scotia.
No blow-by-blow description could do justice to Spine: the music is mercurial, each of the CD’s six tracks a continuum of shifting, permutating relationships and voices, much of it conducted at incredible speed, from Thomson’s burbling register leaps and runs, squeezed through a metal mute, to Turner’s high-pitched clatter. Bull’s voices range from long, wandering bass glissandi to high-speed flurries of metallic scattershot, liable to be confused with some of Thomson and Turner’s own voicings; but the very determination with which the three proceed soon destroys any identikit game of ‘he said, he said’ with a conclusive ‘When was that?’ It’s a high-water mark in Canadian free improvisation.
And then another of Libr’aerie:
Bug Incision bim-79 (bugincision.com)
Few international improvising ensembles get to persist after their initial meetings, but Monicker – the trio of guitarist Arthur Bull and trombonist Scott Thomson, both Canadians, and the English drummer Roger Turner – is currently enjoying a second life, with a recent Australian tour and upcoming dates in France and England. Libr’aerie documents a 2018 performance from Quebec City’s Librairie Saint-Jean-Baptiste.
There’s no easy way to describe the group’s music: any substantial segment might include the dauntingly abstract, the drolly witty and the broadly, almost physically, comic, and each dimension, among others, might be caught in the same passage. This recording is more minimalist than their previous release (Spine on Ambiances Magnétiques), with Turner reducing his kit to snare drum, cymbal and “small junk percussion,” the latter the source of the high-pitched, near random, metallic chatter that sometimes animates this music.
There’s a broad movement here from the abstract to the celebratory. Turner’s special momentum has roots in early jazz and similar tastes have shaped the work of his younger partners. Thomson can reflect a century of jazz trombone, from a New Orleans moan to elegant legato, but there are special moments when he combines unlikely elements, matching bebop velocity to vocalic smears. Bull often extends early blues idioms, and a rapid passage of string-bends can sound like his guitar has an elastic neck strung with elastic bands. Somehow the effect blurs into the identity of Thomson’s trombone, the result an uncanny timbral convergence.
–Stuart Broomer, WholeNote Magazine, Vol 25 Issue 7, April 2020, p63
Here is a good video from June 2018 in Québec at La librarie St-Jean-Baptiste, a tiny, wonderful venue where Roger could only fit a snare drum and cymbals. A recording of this concert became, Libr’aerie.
Mike Chamberlain reviewed Monicker’s set, June 2018, at the Suoni per il Popolo Festival, Montreal, in All About Jazz:
The improvised music part of the festival concluded with Monicker, the trio of percussionist extraordinaire Roger Turner, trombonist Scott Thomson, and guitarist Arthur Bull. Turner was brilliant, the musical ideas seeming to simply fly out of the man, offering a stern challenge to Thomson and Bull, who responded with lines that were more complementary than directly confrontational.
Marc Chénard reviewed the same set in La Scena Musicale:
Monicker Trio était la résultat d’une rencontre assez nouvelle et très complice entre deux Canadiens (le tromboniste montréalais Scott Thomson et le guitariste Arthur Bull de la Nouvelle-Écosse) et le vétéran batteur britannique Roger Turner, Reconnu comme un improvisateur pur et dur de la première heure, ce dernier a pourtant un sens aigu du rythme et de la pulsation, tenant par moment des tempos fébriles sur l’une de ses cymbales. Pour un percussionniste, Turner est doué d’une rare qualité, soit de ne jamais piocher sur ses tambours en les jouant à toute vitesse, sa frappe très sèche lui permettant de contrôler sa dynamique. Le guitariste, de son côté, avec son instrument de taille réduite, s’inscrit dans la lignée des émules de cet autre radical anglo-saxon, Derek Bailey, autant par son jeu fracturé que par son refus de triturer ses phrases avec toutes sortes d’effets électroniques. Le tromboniste, enfin, gloussait sur sa coulisse, pétrissant son son avec différentes sourdines. À l’écoute, chaque musicien semblait s’endiguer dans son propre chemin, tracé non pas à l’encontre des autres mais en parallèle, d’où l’impression d’une singulière cohésion au sein de l’ensemble.