1 _Gravity Issue _08'32"__Listen

2 _Council of All Being _12'39"__Listen

3 _Lemon Squealer _11'11" _Listen

4 _Tremors 06'30"_

5 _Permanent (washable) _06'15"

6 _Chunks _05'36"

7 _Arboreal _08'08" _Listen

8 _Rogue Element _08'29"

9 _Angel Cakes _05'43"


The music on this CD was improvised and recorded to 24 track digital ADAT tape at The Premises recording studio, London on 20 & 21 March 1998. All sounds and effects were recorded live with no overdubs. After a period of time individually and collectively listening to and evaluating what we had recorded, selected pieces were mixed to DAT at the Premises. The sound engineer for both recording and mixing was Nigel Tilbury. The CD was mastered by Dave Bernez.

Julian Cowley The Wire New Year 2000

Marsh has long been one of the most tactfully effective drummers working at the freer edges of British jazz. Here his pulsing articulations lead the ear through a welter of electronic swirls conjured from Franklin’s keyboards and Crowther’s guitar. This is trio improvisation of considerable intensity, with Marsh’s energised figures traced across a field of relentlessly bold abstraction.

Glenn Astarita www.allaboutjazz.com October 1999

* * * * * (out of 5 maximum)

Here we have three crafty veterans of the British jazz-experimental scene who have assembled an extremely unique and thoroughly adventurous series of electrically charged improvisations as the results are often fascinating and beguiling. Guitarist Tim Crowther and keyboardist Steve Franklin have respectively or cooperatively worked with the legendary Canterbury bassist Hugh Hopper on projects such as the hip yet wild “Conglomerate”, various free-jazz ensembles, ex-King Crimson violinist David Cross and many others. Drummer Tony Marsh compliments his astute bandmates impressive resumes as he has also performed with many notables of the European free-jazz scene. Simply stated, these fellows generate enough energy and momentum to power a rocket ship! It is that intense!

Recorded live and improvised sans overdubs Shell Of Certainty is a series of powerful performances! From the opening moments of “Gravity Issue”, thoughts of Hendrix or Mahavishnu performing electric free jazz came to mind. Here, electric guitarist Tim Crowther blazes forward atop atmospheric yet darting keyboard work from Steve Franklin. The overall sound is huge and expansive as the soloing, interplay and feverish left of center or implied backbeats suggest wide open terrain which often leaves quite a bit of space for evolution and invention. “Council Of All Being” is multi-tonal, at times vicious and spacey as if a heated conversation was taking place somewhere in the cosmos. Here, Crowther is on fire with fierce and lightning fast riffs. Throughout, the often glistening sound quality seems multi-dimensional, as if this band were performing in your living room.

“Tremors” emits notions of an electrified homage to the British Free-Jazz scene through sparse passages, chatty dialogue between Franklin, Marsh and Crowther who also utilizes the guitar-synth. Clusters of solos, statements coupled with linear movement and a framework, which is constructed around gradual ascension, suggests a perceived notion of an earthquake or something equally ominous. “Permanent (washable)” features more of a pronounced backbeat by Marsh as the Trio stuns our senses with a somewhat bizarre foray into psychedelic fusion art-rock, accelerated by Franklin’s tasty synth-keyboard work. You may be entering an alien space craft for a quick tour of the heavens on “Aboreal” as the unusual yet hard edged sounds trick and deceive the imagination or how about some mutant electro-blues on the final track titled, “Angel Cakes”. At this juncture it may be time to take a deep breath and cherish the experience. Shell Of Certainty stands on its own, from a high vantage point – as if it were untouchable!........

Jon Newey Jazzwise Magazine October 1999

* * * (out of 4 maximum)

Guitarist Tim Crowther recommends that cocktails or dinner are not consumed while listening to this music. Perhaps gargling with rusty nails would be a more appropriate appetiser for this improvising trio’s debut project, whose roots go way back to the early 70s London jazz-rock scene. Drummer Tony Marsh was with Major Surgery while keyboardist Steve Franklin’s recorded with Elton Dean and Crowther’s improv group, Conglomerate. Which is where this leaps off from, unleashing the collective energy into dark forbidden soundscapes and caustic atonal storms typified by the openers, “Gravity Issue” and “Council of all Being”. This is Crowther’s most out date so far, bending and twisting his guitar and synth into a puzzle of bizarre shapes that explode over Marsh’s restless polyrhythmic propellant. Like a freer version of Mahavishnu’s more menacing moments, this is electric shock treatment for the soul.

Jon Newey, TOP magazine, October 1999

Uneasy atmospherics and atonal shrieks continue guitarist Crowther's quest to make beautifully ugly music in tandem with Marsh's relentless percussive energy.

Dick Metcalf, aka Rotcod Zzaj of the-improviser.com in Improvijazzation Nation No. 39 November 1999

Electronic improv after MY own heart, without doubt! The first cut, Gravity Issue grabbed my ears IMMEDIATELY. I believe it was Crowther’s guitar synth, but it was hard to tell, so supremely blended was it with Steve’s keyboards... of course Mr. Marsh’s drums were identifiable, but this is one of the MOST tightly integrated groups for electronic improvisations (journey style) I’ve heard in YEARS! Sheer & raw POWER of spirit forges a pathway through even the insurmountable obstacles & lets you charge on ahead to new heights! The recording is flawless, but more importantly, the musicians are completely aware of where they are leading you! There are some similarities to forays I’ve taken with my group, "The Imaginary Band", but this is at warp speed (something our trio hasn’t quite accomplished yet). Jazz flavorings, but only tinges... better described as original, methinks! Gets our MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with a plea to ANY player (or listener) who aspires to learn how to go out to BUY this CD! VERY powerful stuph!

Dave Dorkin www.fusemag.com Spring 2000

Guitarist Tim Crowther, drummer Tony Marsh, and keyboardist Steve Franklin tread the line between progressive and fusion. Improvised and recorded live, the cd maintains a high level of energy and musicianship throughout and will appeal to fans of Network, Brand X and adventurous music in general.

David Ashcraft Expose Issue no. 19, May 2000

Shell of Certainty is the work of this British improvisational trio consisting of Steve Franklin (from Phil Miller's In Cahoots) on keyboards, Tim Crowther (of Network, Conglomerate and Groon) on guitar & guitar synth, and veteran improv drummer Tony Marsh. Their sound is often fuller than you would expect from a trio and they are adept at improvising in a number of styles. At times the music has a brooding, building feel to it and at other times they sound like the hyperactivity that one would expect inside a nest of buzzing bees. There is the usual dose of dissonance, and also the approach of random sounds that intentionally eschew interaction between the players. Crowther's guitar often leads the way with Franklin's keyboard interjections and Marsh's busy percussive underpinnings following along. The guitar at times has a heavy, almost corrosive sound but Crowther showcases a different approach for almost all of the nine pieces. Some in fact are jazzier, almost in the style of a grittier version of the early ECM recordings. If you are a fan of creative adventurous music then you will probably enjoy this disc. For other listeners the purely improvised approach works best in live performances rather than in recorded form. The empathetic players here showcase spontaneous composition in a positive light and would undoubtedly be an exciting live act.

Jeph Jerman the-improviser.com Spring 2000

Improvised electric music. These guys' credentials look like a who's who of 'jazz-rock', or what we used to call 'prog-rock' back in the old days. And sound-wise at least, that's what it calls to my mind. Memories of Crimso and the Softs, National Heath et al, kept recurring as I listened to this. But that's just the SOUND of it. The structures are all improvised, so there's not a lot of unison riffing or odd-meter time signatures. Instead we get tasteful use of effects and much interplay, the keyboards at times acting as backing for guitar forays, at others engaged in call and response, or setting a general mood.

"Council Of All Being" sets out to be a vehicle for Crowther's guitar in a no-key-or-tone-center solo, with Franklin doing an excellent job of following along (or maybe, going there with!). Eventually the keys take over and the guitar synth backs up, and it's all stop/start staccato notes and drumming...until the big sweeping washes of chords come in and we're back to guitar space. At least I think that's what I'm hearing. It's hard to tell sometimes.

'Tremors" starts quieter and quicker, with more staccato, and definitely recognizable strings and keys. These gents are listening well to each other, with no one really taking over for any period of time. Eventually this tune turns to call and response-type textures the drummer alternating between filling in the holes and playing along with one or the other instrument.

"Arboreal"  is more ethereal sounding, washes of echoed chords and pinging cymbals. Overall I'd recommend this to fans of the above mentioned bands, or anyone interested in listening to players that listen.

Richard Cochrane Musings website, Spring 2000

Rhys Chatham: Hard Edge (The Wire Editions: 9002-2)

Rhys Chatham (trumpet), Lou Ciccotelli (percussion), Gary Jeff (bass guitar, electronics), Gary Smith (guitar), Pat Thomas (guitar, electronics)

Marsh/Franklin/Crowther: Shell of Certainty (Visionlogic: VLG101)

Steve Franklin (keyboards), Tim Crowther (guitar, guitar synth), Tony March (drums)

"Fusion" was a brave concept, but it's a word that, like its contemporaries "radical feminism" and "", has virtually become a term of abuse, one notch up from "progressive rock" on the scale of avant garde non-u descriptors. Well, here are two groups fearlessly re-opening that old case and asking, "Fusion: Can it be any good?"

Of course, everyone knows that fusion could be good when it wanted to. Groups like Larry Coryell's Eleventh House, not to mention critical avatars like Electric Miles and Early Mahavishnu, were good, awfully and undeniably good. It's not just about capturing the raw energy of rock and injecting it into jazz, and it certainly isn't always just a matter of making improvised music more accessible by watering it down.

Take Rhys Chatham's disc, which starts horribly but soon settles down into a drum-n-bass-fuelled psychedelic vibe. Yes, it's terribly 1996 (or whenever) and it's much more accessible with the rattling, repetitive beatz and screaming guitar solos than it would be without them, but it's not completely shallow stuff either. It has that murky haze which much down-dirty fusion of yesteryear had. Given the directions Miles was going in before he died, we'd be very lucky indeed if he'd made a record as interesting, edgy and unresolved as this one had he survived until today.

There are fun bits, too, like the Latin rhythm which creeps into "Dots" and threatens to turn the track into a mu-ziq-style qu-easy listening tribute, or a tabla sample on "The Boiler" which, perhaps deliberately, recalls "On the Corner". Chatham isn't the most innovative of trumpet players, but he has a lot of Miles in his gestural, sometimes offhand approach which works perfectly in this setting. Smith is hardly the guitarist he seems to think he is, being something of a Vernon Reid (great on paper, disappointing in the ears), but he contributes to the overall sludge which this record very ably sloshes around in. Hard edged maybe, but the whole thing feels suitably rusted and mucky, with none of the gleaming polish of the West Coast.

Marsh/Franklin/Crowther could hardly be more different. They're a live, free improvising trio who just happen to use electronic and amplified instruments for their sound. This is a much more jazzy and much more free-improvised set, although the connection with work that guitarists like John Abercrombie were doing in the early 70s is still very strong.

Marsh and Franklin have worked with a role-call of British free jazzers and improv merchants. Together, they make a boiling texture into which Crowther inserts his twiddly but thoughtful guitar. Much of this is extremely busy music, but it rarely flounders, and when the trio goes for a more aerated style, as on the alarmingly-entitled "Lemon Squealer", they strongly recall the "Larks Tongues in Aspic" period of King Crimson, with its spaced-out atonal jams.

It's not really meaningful to compare these two discs, but there's plenty to contrast. Chatham's set hammers along under the steam of high-velocity drum samples, while Marsh plays a far more flexible, free jazzy card. Aside from Chatham's trumpet, and occasional hot licks from Smith, "Hard Edge" goes for texture above note choice; Franklin and Crowther like to work with notes and bounce melodic and harmonic ideas around the place. They play live, and stress that there are "no overdubs", whereas Chatham's record is in part a studio construction. It fits in with The Wire's idea of what makes a record contemporary; Marsh and Co work with an idea of instrumental performance which you can find either antiquated or time-tested, depending on how you feel about that sort of thing. Both have their own pleasures, of course.

Manfred Bress Canterbury-Nachrichten Issue no. 37, December 1999

A new trio, assembled from well-known musicians: Tony Marsh (dr) has played with Mike Westbrook, Harry Beckett, Full Monte and with a long line of jazz musicians like Elton Dean, Paul Rutherford, Barry Guy, Howard Riley etc. Tim Crowther (g & g syn) has played with, amongst others, David Cross and has toured in a trio with Jim Lebaigue (drummer with Dreamtime) and Lyn Dobson (onetime Soft Machine saxophonist). Steve Franklin (keys), is to be heard on two In Cahoots CDs, has played with George Haslam, with the John Etheridge Quartet and, of course, in Conglomerate, the band that Tim Crowther formed. The pair have a long mutual past.

This new CD is released on their own label, Visionlogic, under the bold heading of "new electric music". Like both the Conglomerate CDs the music is completely improvised, recorded over two days in March 98, and all effects are live with no overdubs. Free improvisation is not unusual in jazz/free jazz - in this magazine there are several examples - but really free music is not often heard. With regard to this CD the word "new", sometimes excessively employed, is completely fitting. At first hearing this CD is comparable with the second Conglomerate CD (Precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true), which could with hindsight be seen as a step towards this music. That band also had a trumpet player (Ted Emmett) and a bass player (Hugh Hopper), but the reduction to a trio here does not coincide with a reduction in the possibilities for musical expression - on the contrary. This is music for the 21st century, new, fresh, electric.

The music travels into an expanse of space, released from rhythm and melody. On first listening, the CD left me speechless, I had never heard anything of this rigourousness before. The music is finely pieced together, the musicians seeming sometimes to play independently of one another, but the jigsaw pieces eventually assemble into a complete whole. There are no solos, in fact there is no melody and no rhythm in the conventional sense, and yet all three are soloists. The sound effects are more than just effects, they are vital pieces of an openly-formed music. Like highly charged particles the tones repel, swirl free through open space, are attracted to other particles and combine in mighty ionic flashes. This is music of the spheres, unearthly unreal, on the other side of all constraints, free, floating through open space. The music sounds so fresh, so new, that with each playback I feel like it is being created for the first time as I listen. The 74 minutes of the CD, divided into 9 tracks, are a flight through unknown sonic worlds - the division into individual tracks seems to me to be a concession to the conventions of normal listening. This CD is a harmonic whole and should be listened to in this way. In addition, and this must be emphasised, it is, despite its radical departure from the normal, astoundingly enjoyably and accessible.

Scott Andrews www.eer-music.com

A British trio of drums, keyboards, and guitar/guitar synth respectively, Marsh, Franklin, and Crowther have extensive resumes of jazz and improvised rock work. Shell of Certainty is their first CD together, and all tracks were improvised and recorded live with no overdubs.

These improvisations are sonically and thematically chaotic and scattered, loosely in the vein of King Crimson's live improvs in 73-74. Melodic fragments are jumbled; chordal features are short and clipped. The jazz influence is most prominent sonically, but not compositionally, as the structures are more random.

Marsh's drumming has a light jazz flavor with subtle cymbal work. Franklin uses crunchy analog synth sounds and clean piano, among other textures, to good effect. Crowther's guitar sounds also range widely, including a smooth fusion sound like a cross between Allan Holdsworth and Scott Henderson. The musicians interact quite well, developing improvised themes and directions that remain engaging as they build.

Improvised rock is difficult to listen to, absorb, and most of all, judge, especially in a short time frame, instead requiring repeated listening and reflection. The highest compliment should be that a listener is intrigued enough to want to listen more, to invest time and work in listening and comprehending. Marsh, Franklin, and Crowther's music definitely holds this appeal, and fans of sonic experimentation in rock improvisation should definitely check out Shell of Certainty.