Pan-Scan Ensemble – Air and Light and Time and Space

Posted: 5 August 2017 in Albums
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Hispid Records / PNL Records

Christopher Nosnibor

Another one lifted from the epic and eternal backlog, Pan-Scan Ensemble’s Air and Light and Time and Space is a document of the first live improvisation by this Scandinavian collective centred around the ever-active free jazz drumming luminary Paal Nilssen-Love. Perhaps as one would predict, the nine players, with two drummers, three trumpets, a piano, a whole slew of saxophones and a flute, contrive to create quite a dizzying racket.

There are just two pieces on the album: ‘Air and Light’ and ‘Time and Space’. The former is a punchy twelve minutes in duration, and after a calm beginning, with just sporadic clatters of soft percussion to punctuate the aural vista, all free jazz hell breaks loose around five minutes in. Discordant piano and wild brass fly in all directions simultaneously, different keys and time signatures clash. It’s not music that will help soothe a headache, that’s for certain.

On ‘Time and Space’, things begin in a calmer place, and the incidental rolls and rumbles are slow but jarring. It all seems quite restrained. However, by the six-minute mark, it’s a frenzied mayhem of horns and arrhythmic drums crashing and…. It’s a dizzying cacophony, and after a while, when they finally bring things back down a couple of notches, it’s quite a relief.

The second extended crescendo is slower, more deliberate, weightier, but no less dramatic. Finally, some twenty-five minutes in, something recognisable as a tune emerges. Dolorous piano rolls over a steady, insistent beat. The horns still run wild all over the place, but they’re held in check by the solid rhythm. It builds and builds to an immense climax.

I know that this type of free jazz improv is supposed to be ‘difficult’, and some works are more difficult than others. In the main – and this is purely my personal taste rather than a comment on its musical or artistic merit – I find it all too much. Air and Light and Time and Space is a bewildering tumult of chaos, busy, uncoordinated and in some respects wilfully unmusical. None of those things are bad in themselves, but I struggle to grasp the purpose beyond self-entertainment for the musicians in the room. Apart from the last seven minutes or so, when a certain sense of structure coalesces from out of the chaos, it’s not fun. Nevertheless, the passion of the players is unmistakable, and the way they do bounce off one another to evolve the ebbs and flows and monstrous crescendos is impressive.

Pan Scan Ensemble

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