Posts Tagged ‘Jazz’

Panurus Productions – 29th May 2020

Mantis Shrimp is the second Shrimp release following their eponymous debut released just over a year ago, in January 2019. A collaboration between various luminaries of the underground scene in Newcastle, England, and Ryosuke Kiyasu, who has enough projects to his credit to render him a one-man music scene in Japan, they describe their sound as ‘chitinous free grind onslaught’.

Now, if ‘Shrimp’ has connotations of small fry, the proverbial puny weakling, and their debut laid waste to those associations with a devastating cacophony , then it’s perhaps worth approaching this instalment with the knowledge that the mantis shrimp is the brutal bastard of the small crustacean world: a violent predator, mantis shrimp typically eat fish, crabs, clams, snails, worms, shrimp and squid, and can take on animals significantly larger than themselves thanks to their ‘calcified clubs’

According to Wikipedia, these hard exoskeletal bastards are sometimes referred to as ‘thumb splitters’ ‘because of the animal’s ability to inflict painful gashes if handled incautiously…—mantis shrimps have powerful claws that are used to attack and kill prey by spearing, stunning, or dismembering’.

This pretty much how it feels listening to the four pieces here.

There’s a strain (and strain is an apposite word choice) of experimental jazz that sounds like the end of a piece, where the instruments all clatter and rumble as they wind down from a climax, only that is the piece, and each piece lasts an eternity. That’s this. Only with grating guitars and bowel-ripping guttural vocals, which add depth and detail to the calamitous, chaotic racket.

‘Sealed Explosion’ eases it in gently, with thirteen minutes of stop / start percussion and stuttering discord that crashes and stumbles in all directions. It’s an absolute headfuck, and it’s only more intensely difficult from hereon in, with the sludgy squall of ‘Grasping Pincers’ bubbling through a relentless racket of crashing cymbals and stammering anti-chords and screeding feedback. The lull after four and a half minutes feels like an immense relief – but then you realise there’s another ten minutes to go as Watts starts up the gasping growl (first mistyped amusingly but perhaps appropriately as ‘sharts up’) that will continues to rasp through the bewildering tempest of noise. There’s some wild funk bass played at a hundred miles an hour around the ten-minute mark, but it’s submerged beneath a brain-shredding wall of noise. That’s no criticism, just a mere statement of fact.

‘Boiling Swamp’ spring and spurs, eddying electronics and guitars that sound more like they’re tuning up than playing actual music dominate the thrumming, humming drone of feedback and bass groans and tweeting sonic contrails. It gradual descends into a bass drone miasma, while shrill top-end feedback shrieks all around. Not a lot happens, but amidst the turbulence, there are wordless howls and hollers. Or, if words, impenetrable. As they ought to be. Watts resorts to guttural snarls in the dying minutes of this chthonic noise dirge that evokes Sunn O))) minus the growling low end crossed with Whitehouse, and which leaves ‘Endless Collapsing Staircase’ in prospect.

It’s 28 minutes of trippy experimental electronica that straddles noise, power electronics and various ambient forms. Percussion rattles erratically amidst trilling industrial scrapes, gradually building through wordless vocal drones and swelling layers of extranea. Anguished howls, shrieks, and barks punctuate a mess of feedback and flailing percussion. It’s a fucking horrible mess of noise: there’s a stab at a fractured bass groove in amongst it all. It never quite gets going, and 14 minutes in, it sounds like it’s all over as it collapses into a mess of pedals, but we’re barely at the midpoint. Watts sounds like he’s being gutted in a ceremonial act that’s been incorporated into a Large Unit performance. Or something. It hurts. But it works.

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Karlrecords KR073 – 24th January 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Aidan Baker and Gareth Davis are no strangers to Aural Aggro: both feature in the roll-call of post-rock collective A-Sun Amissa, led by Richard Knox, and Baker’s myriad collaborations and contributions have received coverage here, and with good reason. Their contributions to the field of post-rock / ambient / brooding neoclassical orchestral avant-garde are substantial, to say the least.

It was two years ago that Canadian guitar player Aidan Baker and Belgian clarinettist Gareth Davis came together to release Invisible Cities, which, as the press release notes, ‘the duo explored the calmer side of things – from chamber jazz to ambient / drone and back, giving much space and air to breathe to their respective instrument’.

And so to the sequel: more of the same, yes, but different. Because there is always evolution, and never stasis.

Ominous. Unsettling. Slow-moving. Atmospheric. Resonant. The adjectives bubble up through the mist of ‘Hidden’, the album’s first composition as strings scrape and moan through a gauze-like haze and layers build and drift. Everything is vague, the elements fading into one another, with brief incidentals bringing tension and disquiet to an otherwise tranquil but strangely indefinable atmosphere.

‘Eyes’ rumbles into darker territory, rumbling, billowing darkness providing an undercurrent for wisps of otherworldly drones – forged on strings, but detached from the context of specific instrumentation

When listening to ambient works, I do, at times, find myself pondering the source or the various sounds. ‘That’s a violin’; or ‘that’s a cello’; or ‘that’ll be the clarinet’. It’s a distraction I could do without, especially when effects – and sometimes just reverb and the way notes and sounds rub against one another to create seemingly unnatural sounds – mean that instruments don’t sound like the instruments they are, and often don’t even sound like conventional instruments. It’s better just to let it all wash over you, and to let the sound swell and envelop your being.

This is very much true of the dense, malevolent sonic swirl of ‘The Dead’, which tapers down seamlessly into ‘Continuity’, where drones hover and piano notes crash as if sliding down a staircase and metallic drones slide and it’s a minimal approach to instrumentation that creates the greatest tension, which ultimately dissipates in the altogether warmer climes of ‘Names’.

Baker and Davis bring out the best in one another, combining their creative capabilities to forge ambience with depth and the power to affect mood rather than merely hover, and Invisible Cities II is strong, moving, and evocative while at the same time conjuring a perfectly distracting aural fog.

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Buzzhowl Records – 26th July 2019

Left Limbs are Raul Buitrago (drums) and Jake Saheb (guitar), and Hexes is an album of two halves, two sides, two tracks, each sprawling over ten minutes apiece in duration. And they pack a lot of challenging noise into that timespan. At times uncoordinated, at times harsh, it’s very much a journey.

At the risk of infinite repetition, I’m a fan first and foremost and critic on the side, and of the many people I work with doing this, the PR and labels – and artists – who are clearly in it for the love are my favourites by miles. The passion invariably shines through. And so I’m disproportionately excited when, during a Twitter exchange, I’m told ‘In the second track, about half way through some kind of beat emerges and if you listen all the way through it’s a really great moment, but I just like the sound, distorted guitar and drums – but dismantled.’ And I get it. sometimes -often – the ‘ow!’ of a rack lies in a fleeting transitional moment, where something = often something random or incidental – happens. You notice it. And once you’ve noticed it, you can’t unnoticed it. But it something special and sweet and it’s a ‘moment’. Your moment, a personal insight and intersection between creation and reception. And it becomes everything, the moment on which the entire piece hangs and pivots from good to magical.

And so I’m on the edge of my increasingly-worn suede-covered chair, which I’ve sat in to write reviews for the best part of a decade now, squinting in the darkness at the screen as erratic, irregular beats clatter and clank and feedback screeches, howls and whistles among echoing unevenness. And ‘dismantled’ is the word. It’s spectacularly disjointed, difficult in the most glorious of ways.

Where is this all going? It’s a clash of experimentalism, avant-garde and jazz without the groove, a messy exploration of sonic incongruity, rich in atmosphere and angularity. It meanders, thumping and bumping and squawking and screeching… and then suddenly, there it is, crashing in around the nine-minute mark. A dolorous bass booms in and the drumming picks up and it’s like Filth-era Swans for a moment as things get frenetic and the sound rapidly descends into a distorted mess of speaker overload.

It’s the crushing, headache-inducing unprettiness that’s precisely the appeal: Hexes may not be remotely political or even engaged in anything about anything, existing in its own microcosmic sphere, but it’s an ugly album for ugly times. It helps release the pain.

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Left Limbs - Hexes

Wonkystuff

What do Neuschlafen do? The York / Leeds collective which features member of myriad other bands and projects seem to exist more in the ether and in theory than as a tangible entity, despite the existence of a handful of recordings, most of which capture live improvisations in collaboration with other artists.

It’s been some time since the trio, comprising John Tuffen (guitar, synthesiser, vocals), Ash Sagar (bass, percussion, synthesiser, vocals) and Jason Wilson (drums, percussion, synthesiser) combined forces to release anything ‘proper’, although What We Do – a rehearsal room recording committee to (virtual) tape on a Tascam DR07-mkII (with no overdubs) at House Of Mook, Leeds on March 24th, 2019 adheres to their improvised, zero-budget, DIY ethos to the letter. Some of the sound is a little muffled and muddy, and the balance isn’t quite what studio ix would aim for, but it does capture the band’s essence and approach a vast expanse, before

With the exception of the twenty-five second ‘Breath #1’ the eight pieces here are all long-form explorations that sit toward the ten-minute mark. The first, ‘The Set-Up’ could be a literal rendition of its title and is more f a soundcheck than a song, with a wild crash and slash of cymbal mayhem and frenetic jazz percussion over a gloopy, strolling bass.

‘A Slow Hand’, with its wandering, repetitive motifs, has echoes of latter-day Earth and conjures a spaced-out-desert rock / folk hybrid played under sedation. It meanders along, before the playing becomes quieter, and it finally sort of peters out. And yet it doesn’t feel remotely disappointing, because it sounds somehow intentional.

The tracks tend to follow a similar flow in fundamental terms: the drums plod along with frequent and explosive, unpredictable fills punctuating the rhythmic line while the bass wanders around casually while returning to its root motif by way of an anchor just when things start to look like the structure is losing shape and the guitar lays down layers of abstraction and textured atmospherics rather than affecting any semblance of melody or tune.

The title track is a definite standout: landing at around the albums mid-point, it steps up the tempo and goes straight into a chunky jazz-tinged krautrock groove. It’s the rhythm section that dominates, while synths waft and ripple and heavily echoed guitar rings out crisp and clean but at a distance. And whereas the other pieces tend to drift, ‘What We Do’ drives and maintain a linear, forward-facing trajectory as it builds through successive slow-burning crescendos.

It’s the percussion that comes to the fore on the closing tryptic, with the 15-minute ‘Divisions’ constructed around a relentless rhythm around which pulsating synths grind and drone in way that calls to mind Suicide’s debut. Somewhere, maybe about halfway through, when the drums have hit an optimal thump and the cymbals are crashing all over, the bass boosts into an approximation of Joy Division’s ‘Isolation’, while monotone vocals, the words inaudible, drone away in the background as the instrumentation stretches out into a vast expanse, before the final cut, ‘to the end’ breaks loose with a thunderous clatter of freeform percussion and sprightly bass that bounds around freely and fluidly to conclude a set that’s simultaneously tense and mellow, an amalgamation of so many disparate elements that renders it difficult to place. And that’s all the more reason to rate this effort, that broadly sits in the brackets of avant-garde, experimental, jazz, and even post-rock and math-rock, albeit at their most minimal and most deconstructed. And that is what they do.

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Neuschlafen – What we do

Love Love Records – 26th April 2019 – LOVLP03

Christopher Nsnibor

However you remember Sly and the Family Drone, whatever your past experience, and whatever you may expect, the reality of each new entry in their catalogue brings something slightly different.

My first encounter with them was in a live setting, and I was left reeling with images of a bloke in boxer shorts pummelling drums and getting half the audience to join in. I remember noise, rhythms and chaos. Various YouTube footage confirms this is pretty much representative.

All of those elements are present on their studio recordings, but in different measures. It works: it’s a different medium. And moreover, each release reflects an evolution, usually a subtle but nevertheless key shift. And so it is on Gentle Persuaders, the collective who describe themselves as a ‘neo-noise-jazz outfit’ (one suspects that as apt as the description is, there’s an element of tongue-in-cheek here, just as their absurdist track titles aren’t entirely straight-faced) ‘vomit forth a smooth serving of curious and clattering noise not devoid of fun’.

Smooth is perhaps one thing it isn’t, and for that we should all try and be grateful. Challenging, angular, tonally and structurally abrasive, Gentle Persuaders finds Matt Cargill and co. playing to their ever-growing strengths.

The album opens in suitably uncompromising style, with the longest of the four compositions, the fourteen-minute ‘Heaven’s Gate Dog Agility’. It takes its time to get going, and with minimal instrumentation save for elongated sax drones, it has something of a sparse, free jazz feel. The percussion is restrained, distant, muted, and the emphasis seems to be on atmosphere, and – so it would seem at this stage – musicianship. But by the mid-point the drums are full-blooded, and the sax is battling amidst a barrelling wall of extraneous noise. The closing minutes find the rare emergence of an overt structure, a form, with repetition and a coalescence of sound that could almost be mistaken for a tune.

Crashing, head-blasting industrial beats worthy of Test Dept or perhaps reminiscent of Revolting Cocks’ ‘Beers, Steers & Queers’ shatter the air on ‘New Free Spirits Falconry & Horsemanship’. And they continue to pound away for the duration, while the sax screeching becomes ever more strangled and frenzied.

‘Votive Offerings’ ventures into murky, dark ambient territory, and reveals glimmering flickers of light shifting amidst the shadows of sombre drones and unsettling incidentals. It’s a mosaic of fragments: forms start to emerge, solid rhythms kick in, only to halt after a few bars, and if it’s jazz with noise, it’s jazz with noise penned as a soundtrack to the fragmented hallucinatory anti-narrative of Naked Lunch.

It’s this change of mood that renders the finale all the more impactful: beginning stark, sparse, eerie, with single notes ringing out into a sea of black echo and swampy low undercurrents, the spectacularly punny (and so very typical) ‘Jehovah’s Wetness’, a low-end bass grind begins to build the foundations of a swirling sludge-trudge climax. It’s not gentle, but it’s extremely persuasive.

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Gentle Persuaders

SkipStone – SKST024

Christopher Nosnibor

Pun unintended, there’s something groovy about releasing an album as a triple-deck of 10” records. I was never averse to getting up and turning a record over or changing the disc, even though some releases do take the piss a bit in terms of making work by pressing just one four-minute track into a side of a 12” on an album release. But with the 12 tracks clocking in around six or seven minutes apiece and with two per side, Artemisia seems to balance the vinyl experience and the practicalities of playing records.

Artemisia is by turns tranquil and volatile, and this makes sense in context of the album’s inspiration, whereby, as the press release quippingly quotes that cellist Erik Friedlander distills (sic) the brain-bending powers of absinthe, and the darkness of its murky past into his latest project’.

While perhaps one of the most famous works of art inspired by absinthe is Degas’ L’Absinthe (1875-6), followed maybe by Manet’s The Absinthe Drinker (c.1859), it’s Picasso’s absinthe glass sculptures which captured Friedlander’s imagination in 2015 when he visited MOMA.

“The glasses were pretty… kind of innocent on first glance, but as I looked more closely, I found a dangerous side. The front of each glass is exposed – torn away to show its insides. It seemed like Picasso was saying this is what happens to you when you drink absinthe,” says Friedlander. This viewing spurred Erik, who’s played with a host of artists spanning The Mountain Goats, John Zorn, Dave Douglas, and Courtney Love, into ‘an exploration of absinthe’s mysterious history: beneath a glamorous veneer in 19th century Paris lurked accusations of hallucinatory properties and elusive effects that created an atmosphere of addiction and demise’.

That absinthe has – or ever had – hallucinogenic properties appears to be a myth, but the romantic notion of the drink’s properties proliferate in art and writing, and Friedlander’s jazz-orientated representation of the drink and its history is intriguing and at times quite hypnotic. Take, for example the sparsely-arranged, exploratory ‘La Fee Verte’ with its sporadic percussion and mournful strings.

Friedlander’s cello is augmented by a band of collaborators, which includes pianist Uri Caine, bassist Mark Helias, and drummer Ches Smith, and certainly, his cello takes something of a back seat, or at least occupies a less dominant position in these varied compositions which range from the buoyant, focused and direct, to wandering experimental works.

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Erik Friedlander – Artemisia

Cave – Allways

Posted: 5 December 2018 in Albums
Tags: , , , , ,

Drag City

Christopher Nosnibor

Allways represents an evolution for Chicago-based psychedelic droners Cave. Perhaps not an evolution in spelling, having delivered an album I can’t help but squirm at whenever I see its title, but that’s not the point when assessing its artistic merits. But nevertheless, Allways is very much a different work from its predecessor, Threace

As the press blurb explains, ‘during the making of the last album, Threace, CAVE was in the process of becoming a quintet. They toured the world afterwards, playing on four continents and eighteen countries – as close to everywhere as they could get. Then they took a minute. They recorded it over time, in Chile and then Chicago. You can hear all of this, the energy of liveness, the reps, and consolidating expanded possibilities within their new alignment, the time away, the distance, and the freshness of returning to recorded sounds, everywhere on Allways.’

And here I find I’m torn. The skewed angles of the previous efforts – which admittedly always alluded as much to jazz as math-rock – have been sanded down a bit, so while there’s still a heavily psychedelic aspect to the album’s compositions, they’re very much predominantly of the jazz persuasion. And this is where I get twitchy. Sure, the nine-minute ‘Beaux’ pushes the space-ruck groove, but there’s some ultra-anal wah-wah action that’s pitched at precisely the level marked ‘irritation’.

There’s nothing to match the epic build and driving sustained crescendo of ‘Sweaty Fingers’, for example. And while they pitch Allways with the enthusiastic babble that ‘their inspiration comes from everywhere – Miles, psych, beats, exotica, library music, rock, punk, the Germans, the New York guys too, minimalists, the Dead, music from India, everywhere!’ I mostly get a lot of jazz here. And you know how I feel about jazz, man. Or if not, then maybe you ought to dig that while I don’t hate jazz per se, I’m on the top flight of picky when it comes to how I like it.

Allways kinda slips to the wrong side, the muso side. It gets mellow, and it gets introspective – not in the analytical, self-aware sense, but in the looping grooves with funk-tinged licks that nag and gnaw beyond insistence to irritation. ‘The Juan’ starts off promisingly enough, a bit of a prog riffing and a bold, strolling bassline that then meanders into more math-orientated territory, and then… well, some intriguingly expansive passages are marred by just too much jazz vibing that makes it an album that requires a beard to stroke to be eligible to listen to.

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Cave – Allways