Posts Tagged ‘Jazz’

Hominid Sounds – 30th May 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Matt Cargill’s project still has one of the best names around: it’s not only an example of punning genius, but also one of those band names which sets expectations as to what you’re going to get musically. I say musically, but that’s very much a matter of perspective. SATFD don’t make music in the conventional sense, and Molar Wrench is as sonically challenging as any of the previous releases SATFD have put out. On this outing, they’re joined by Dutch/British free jazz unit Dead Neanderthals, to form what they describe as ‘the ultimate tag team of the murky European underground’.

Given that the two acts featured on a split release last year, this collaboration seems like a logical progression. It certainly marks a departure for Sly, in that the trademark subterranean grind of endless, dark drones and unsettling atmospherics is matched with and at times consumed by the maddest jazz shit going.

The album contains just four tracks, but packs in a hell of a lot of racket. It all kicks off with a frenetic, a wild, free jazz cacophony, a melange of clamorous, ultra-hyped parping horns, sonorous lowed drone and is dominated by truly frenzied, cacophonous bent. Circuits fizz and hum while the percussion thrashes and crashes arrhythmically, throwing the listener around with reckless abandon a rollercoaster of tempestuous sonic mania.

There are two ‘Muck Man’ tracks and the first is ten minutes of slow, throbbing churn made up primarily of low and mid-range sludge, the drums holding a ragged but hard rhythm amidst a maelstrom of thick, dirty, pulsating noise. It’s almost a riff, but more a succession of waves in a rhythmically surging sonic tide, a with the density of liquid mud. Immersive would be one word.

‘Muck Man Part 2’ is altogether more low-key, a dark, atmospheric piece that manifests as a prehistoric sulphur swamp in sonic form. Slowly, the murky drift builds to a screaming tempest of noise; the brass develops from a low drone to a shrill shriek of pain and the drumming transitions from a sedate trudge to an explosive riot of noise, abrasive blasts of snarling electronica and whatever the fuck else bursting in waves of sonic shock.

The title track closes off the album, and it’s an eleven-minute trudge that calls to mind the claustrophobic brutality of Swans’ ‘Young God’ EP. The plodding percussion provides a doomy and tense prickling spine to the oppressive grind that lumbers on for what feels like a skull-crushing eternity.

There is a definite structure to Molar Wrench, in that it starts off wild and winds down to a grinding crawl, but it by no means feels like the energy displayed at the outset dissipates as the album progresses. It’s more a case that having exhausted the listener with frenetic kinetics and gone all-out on the attack at the front end, the album seeks to bludgeon the listener into submission in the later stages. And highly effective it is, too.

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23rd June 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Ashley Reaks’ relentless release schedule continues apace with the arrival of Track Marks, his eleventh album. Because it’s an Ashley Reaks album, it’s characterised by off-kilter experimentations in dub and socio-political commentary. But whereas jazz provided the core influence on 2015’s Growth Spurts, it’s spectacularly spacious prog-rock wizardry that arrives fresh on Track Marks to bring the all-important new, unexpected and so-incongruous-it-shouldn’t-work-but-somehow-does feature of the material.

‘Stale Mate’ opens the album with a suitably eclectic mix of ingredients, with the blippy electronica of the opening bars immediately being submerged by one of the wandering basslines that define Reaks’ output regardless of what he’s doing. Somehow it moves from here to ultimately culminate in a knowingly gratuitous guitar solo.

‘I’ll Take My Pilgrimage’ is seemingly about as much a yearning to find faith as a criticism of religion per se, and melds a stormy, rolling drum to another phat bassline and some progtastic guitars and synths, while packing in some jazzy sax too. The jazz direction, which came to the fore on previous album, Growth Spurts, becomes increasingly dominant as Track Marks progresses. ‘Exposing Fiona’ gets pretty wild in its horn-parping intensity.

‘Stick Thin Worms’ pitches a stomping rhythm beneath some more abstract lyrical content, while poet and bluesman Paul Middleton (who hails from Reaks’ hometown of Harrogate) provides spoken word on ‘Tank From Grimsby’, which continues the extending thread of collaborative efforts which have become stablished as a feature of Reaks’ receny output. It’s actually a piece about some musicians, and marks a departure into mellow flamenco guitar.

If it all sounds like overload, it’s credit to Reaks that somehow, it all hangs together with a remarkable cohesion. It’s not immediate: one has to first surrender to the strangeness, the otherworldliness that Reaks creates. But there are some – many – undeniably great musical moments here. They’re not preoccupied with hooks or choruses, but there’s a certain atmosphere that envelops Track Marks – an album where the darker second meaning is (wisely) left unhinted at in the cover art. And once again, it’s Reaks’ refusal to pursue any obvious avenue which is the key to his success as an artist. Whether it’s a detriment to him in commercial terms, well, who knows? But that’s not what he’s about, and precisely why he deserves respect and attention.

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Drid Machine – DRM27 – 21st March 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Having looked over all of the tabs I had open on my computer I had to pause the disc three minutes into the first track. I was confused, I was convinced there were two songs playing at once – one woozy ambient piece, drifting and warping, and a whacky jazz-grunge effort. My head was beginning to spin. Jungle drumming and scrawking bass undulations collide with tearing guitars, weird synth incidentals and all kinds of other extraneous sound effects to create a sonic experience that’s quite bewildering on ‘The Approaching of the Disco Void’. It’s ten minutes of musical mayhem.

The golden oriole is a type of bird, binomially known as oriolus oriolus (which is considerably more pleasant-sounding than the ‘turdus’ genus of the thrush species). According to the go-to source for all information about everything, the call of this extremely common migratory bird ‘is a screech like a jay, but the song is a beautiful fluting weela-wee-ooo or or-iii-ole, unmistakable once heard.’ There’s nothing beautiful or fluting about this freeform chaotic din. This is not a criticism: freeform chaotic din is better than good with me.

The album’s shortest track, ‘The Chrysopoeia of the Trilithon Ass’ is also it’s wildest, a Beefheartian frenzy of discord and multiplicity (I’m recalling the traumatic experience of hearing ‘Trout Mask Replica’ for the first (and only) time, a record that sounds like standing in a hallway listening to seven people, all drunk, playing different tunes in seven different rooms which all open onto said hall.

The hectic percussion drives through a wall of feedback and a grinding, deliriously unpredictable, stabbing bass on the third and final track, ‘The Pyrite Wink’. It’s a nine-minute exercise in working a wonky groove with relentless and increasingly wayward energy, until it collapses in a crackle of overdrive and howling trails of feedback.

As freeform chaotic din goes, Golden Oriole stands as a cacophony of quality, but likely best absorbed in small doses.

 

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Sê-lo Net Label – 12th May 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

This isn’t an album that’s easy to position, but I’m not about to labour any hyperbolic proclamation that it’s genre-defying or even unique in its hybridity. The press blurb pitches Stars are a Harem as a modern day answer to Miles Davis ‘Kind of Blue’, where the music is steeped in the avant-garde tradition while being accessible to the public ear thanks to “pop” recording techniques and a softening of the harsh sounds associated with the 1960s avant-garde amidst American jazz music.

I’d actually go so far as to say that aside from some unconventional structure as some unusual and incongruously explosive percussion – and perhaps a tendency to incorporate unexpected stops and starts to stutter the flow of the subtle, mellow and overtly jazz-inspired instrumentation – Stars Are A Harem is a raw and soulful work which has mass appeal.

Gaugh has one of those voices that wows people: you just know that casual listeners catching him perform a low-key club show (and I rather suspect that’s the kind of show Gaugh tends to perform) would absolutely melt and rush to the merch stall once they’d done clapping their hands off, even if they hadn’t quaffed a quart of prosecco. Yes, he has soul: deep, deep soul. And however wayward or experimental some of the songs are in their conception, and however ‘jazz’ the pieces are stylistically, the execution is smooth.

Alongside urgent, arrhythmic drumming, not to mention segments of deftly created and technically impressive drumming, strolling soothing and strolling basslines, pegged back and considerate (even when they build to the calamity of thunder) are a consistent feature of Stars Are A Harem.

While Stars Are A Harem clearly and explicitly exploits the wilder tendencies of avant-garde jazz stylings, it also does a while lot more. Moreover, while Stars Are A Harem excitingly finds Micah Gaugh mine an avant-garde seam, the more experimental tendencies are kept rigorously in check. And herein lies the album’s greatest achievement, in that it’s an overtly accessible and enjoyable album, but one with unconventional undercurrents, pitching to the underground and the overground at the same time.

 

 

 

Micah Gaugh – Stars Are A Harem

ti-Records – TIRECS004

Christopher Nosnibor

What do you need to know about this album? Well, GIW is the solo project of trumpeter & performer Pablo Giw. He hails from Cologne, Germany, and Never is Always is his debut album.

‘Morning Machine’ finds Pablo spin some rhythmically-intoned spoken word that’s archetypally beat in its style and delivery. Slow, subsonic trip-hop beats glitch beneath warping free jazz parps which cut their way across spaced-out drones.

A nagging looped motif provides the core of the framework of ‘What’s Outside Isn’t There’, and it’s around this that changes in tempo and tonality, force and spirit that the atmosphere and mood of the piece shift over its duration. The blurb describes GIW as ‘having electronic music in mind, but creating it by acoustic and instrumental means’, and while there are times when his plays the trumpet like a trumpet, over the course of the album’s eight tracks, he demonstrates a stylistic eclecticism and inventiveness that’s hard not to admire.

Never is Always finds GIW striving to ‘redefine his role as a trumpet player and us[ing] his instrument as sound generator for complex harmonic layers, a drum machine or as a filter for his voice. It’s when GIW pushes his boundaries the furthest that he’s most impressive and successful compositionally, and while the more obviously trumpet-led, jazz-flavoured compositions like ‘The Golden Calf’ aren’t short on late-night hot city isolation tension and atmosphere, even with the swaying rhythms which underpin its loose groove. Far more interesting are the swelling cathedrals of unsettling noise which form the fabric of the short but intense cracking blast of ‘Right Endeavour,’ which forges a dense noise which is both electro and other-wordly in its manifestation.

If the dreamy soul which occupies the first half of ‘I Saw You – Trouble’ is unremarkable s of and in itself, the fact it sounds like it’s a synth tune is indicative of Pablo’s technical abilities, and when it skips into darker, glitchier terrain around the mid-point, the context is rendered even more impressive.

‘Hain’ barrels into avant-garde technoindustrial territory, with clattering, clanking percussion and blasts of white noise that calls to mind the experimentalism of early Cabaret Voltaire or Foetus.

Never is Always is nothing if not varied in its approach and style, and in being something of a mixed bag isn’t wholly consistent. However, it would be wrong to be overly critical, and not only because it’s GIW’s first effort but because it’s the work of an artist willing to explore, to experiment, and to throw it all out there. It’s less a matter of variable quality as a matter of taste, and while I abhor anything that whiffs of ersatz Beatnick bollocks, that’s just me, and what really matters is that Never is Always is an ambitious and eclectic effort which shows that we’re looking at an artist with substantial and possibly unique potential.

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Ideologic Organ – SOMA025 – 10th February 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

The accompanying press release is instructive and informative as to the premise of the latest offering from The Necks. Entering their thirtieth year of their existence, the trio continue to innovate and to create music which expands the parameters of jazz music:

The latest document from this long-running ensemble, Unfold, presents itself as a double LP, with four side-length tracks. A deliberate absence of numbered sides hands a substantial swatch of participation over to the listener, allowing her to navigate his own path through the soundscape at hand. The shorter length of the vinyl format, far from being a constraint upon the members of the ensemble, instead offers them a more compact horizon to contemplate, wherein the distance travelled is recalibrated to more immediate and dynamic textural concerns.

The title is appropriate, in that it gives a fitting indication of the nature of the compositions. Although the vinyl format is pitched as being a ‘shorter’ format, the fact that each track occupies a full side of this double album means that each piece still has a running time of between fifteen and twenty-one minutes. And unfold is what they do: gradual evolutions, slow unfurlings and near-imperceptible outspreadings which creep from sparse to near-overwhelming.

‘Blue Mountain’ begins with a delicate piano, but over time builds in depth, tension and pace to a sustained crescendo that never quite breaks. It simmers long and leisurely, cymbal crashes rising in intensity, resembling an intro to a track on a recent Swans album. I mean this as a compliment: it’s a lengthy piece, but there’s movement, there are dynamics, there’s a tangible sense of trajectory.

Noodling Hammond keys wander over a slow, pulsating undulation on ‘Overhear’, and it’s hypnotic and mellow. Perhaps the most overtly ‘jazz’ composition, it also encapsulates perfectly the wide-ranging elements The Necks incorporate within their music. Bongos bubble up jittery rhythms while the trilling organ notes meander and weave, intersecting time signature s forging an increasing sense of spatial disorientation over time.

The tribal rhythms which dominate ‘Ride’ slowly but surely increase in pace, raising the tension as the elongated, barely perceptible notes hang in slow suspense. Ultimately, the pace reaches a frenetic peak, before collapsing into arrhythmia , a conglomeration of discord and distempo, and the fourth track, ‘Timepiece’ is nothing short of a bewildering chaos of percussion, discord and orchestrated dissonance. Against the clattering rattle of drums and more, bass notes resonate and xylophone notes ring out in different directions, and over time, it becomes increasingly unsettling disorientating, difficult.

Unfold is by no means an easy album. It’s by no means a ‘jazz’ album in conventional terms. But in terms of an album which bounces off the wall in myriad unexpected directions freeforming and freewheeling as the musicians explore interpersonal musical boundaries, it’s the epitome of jazz. It’s also really rather good. Well, it is a Necks album, after all.

The Necks - Unfold

6th December 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Some reviews are seemingly fated. This is one such review: I was slow to get started, and then, having spent several evenings working on a detailed critical analysis, exploring the album’s wild eclectism on a more or less track-by-track basis in a discourse of some eight hundred words, my laptop crashed and most of the work was lost, with the only available version being a collection of notes which were days old. How it happened, when my word processor is set to autosave every five minutes, I have no idea. Thanks Microsoft.

Still, this is an Ashley Reaks album, and a man who can produce three albums in a year – and continue to produce art, and to gig relentlessly, under difficult personal circumstances – deserves the same kind of unbowing attitude from a reviewer.

Because it’s an Ashley Reaks album, anything can happen. And it will. And it does. Following on from Reaks’ ‘punk album’ This is Planet Grot (and a remarkable credible and impressive punk album at that), Growth Spurts, on the one hand, could be considered a return to more familiar territories. But then, on the other, it could justifiably be tagged his ‘jazz album’. The familiar elements of reggae and post-punk inspired dub are present and correct, but this collaboration-based collection of tunes also brings in some wild jazz stylings. The collaborative element is also key here, not only to appreciating Growth Spurts, but to understanding Reaks as an artist, at least as much as it’s possible to grasp such an idiosyncratic and singular individual.

Like his collage artwork, his music is a mish-mash of elements drawn from here, there and everywhere, often bolted together at weird angles and demonstrating incompatible proportions and lines of perspective. He has very much his own slant on things, and his approach is also very much his own: Reaks is one of the few artists who consistently produces work which has the capacity to surprise, to confound, and, occasionally, confuse – which is a healthy response to something which is so staunchly unconventional. You get the impression that Reaks’ raison d’être is to produce art which surprises and confounds himself, as much as any notional audience. His mindset appears to be that if it’s not fresh, unexpected, and if it’s not sincere, then it’s worthless. Collaboration, when done right, yields an output which is greater than the sum of its parts, and draws out facets of each contributor which may not otherwise be known.

As such, Growth Spurts is a world away from his previous collaborative effort, Cultural Thrift (2015) with poet Joe Hakim, on which Reaks stepped toward the rear portion of the stage to provide a background accompaniment (which in itself was a departure given Reaks’ propensity for dizzying soundclashes). Five of the ten pieces – it would be wrong to refer to this as a collection of songs, given that they feature spoken word and poetry – feature writers and poets from a broad and diverse range of backgrounds. They’re disparate characters, as varied as Reaks’ own sources of input, hand-picked to contribute to the album.

The result is dizzying, a rollercoaster journey through a vast swathe of cultural terrain. Each of the collaborative pieces is distinct and different, and finds Reaks attentive to the style of the different speakers. And as the strange, strangles vocal cacophony which introduces the album’s first track, the oddly ominous prog-dub drum‘n’bass neoclassical jazz mixup that is ‘Divorced from the Body’ shows, he’s digging deep to locate new and unexpected hybrids. And yet, amidst the chaos, he still whips up some killer hooks – something so many experimental / genre-smashing artists completely overlook in their quest to innovate, to dazzle with their imagination and technical prowess.

‘The Gentle Art of Ignoring’ with Sylvie Hill is the most outright jazz track on the album, and her sassy vocal delivery and confident Canadian accent brings another sharp dimension to an album which displays almost infinite dimensions, but there’s just so much to take in. But if you need a pointer for where to start, start with the basslines. The crashing jazz-influenced drum ‘n’ bass drumming, the wild brass, the myriad perspectives of the different vocalists all slot into place over those low-down basslines that stroll and groove and leap and boogie. Get on down.

 

Ashley Reaks - Growth Spurts