Posts Tagged ‘Free Jazz’

Rattle

Nottingham duo Rattle throw out the pop formulas in favor of a percussive ping pong between members. The pair, Katharine Brown and Theresa Wrigley, weave a tapestry of hypnotic dance and percussive patter, both picking up the sticks to spar rhythmically with each other with only occasional forays into vocal volley. Sequence drops the listener into a trance, playing off of subtle shifts in ever evolving patterns, with each of the four songs on the record stretching towards the ten-minute mark. The songs have the effect of stripping away the surroundings of the listener, like a sonic suspension in sensory isolation, or in this case suspension in the rarefied air of rhythmic thrum. The record is best listened to in dim surroundings or with eyes closed altogether. Let the rhythms play over the mind, pushing accompanying brainwave patterns to the beat that the two women pluck out of thin air. In that environment Sequence begins to toggle the tumblers of the mind into new positions.

When vocals do arise in the mix, they’re often wordless – cooing, humming and moaning entwined with the insistent, ecstatic beats. They finally break into discernible phrasing on “Signal” but even then, the pair are all about repetition, turning their words into mantras that eventually push meanings to the background in favor higher states of consciousness. While the record is propulsive and even at times frantic, the overall effect is absolutely soothing. There’s a sense of natural evolution to each song, each player anticipating the other completely, and that ingrained trust is passed through the speakers to the listener. Brown and Wrigley are spirit guides, sonic Sherpas, clatter-packed chiropractors come to align your vibrations to their natural thump.

It’s a shift from the usual dose of post-punk and that drops from the bucket at Upset The Rhythm, but the DIY spirit is just as punk as anything else on the roster. Brown and Wrigley are working the crease between jazz, post-punk and drone and it works as a feast for the ears. Highly recommended as a background beat to get your own weird Birdman-esque mania working for you, or just to drop out in the negative zone for forty-odd minutes of float. Either way Sequence is a damn delight.


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Mythic Sunship

While Another Shape of Psychedelic Music might not radically reinvent its own genre the way Coleman did for jazz, or upend possibilities quite as much as The Refused did for punk, their latest for El Paraiso is an immersive and writhing organic beast that certainly reconfigures their own sound enough to warrant the wink on that title. The band’s Land Between Rivers was a stunner, raining down brimstone blasts of doom and psych in equal measures, charring pretty much everything in its wake to a carcinogenic crisp. On last year’s Upheaval, though, they got dense, maybe wandering a bit to far into their own heads and leaving the listener without the spark of unpredictability and terrifying edge-of-reality playing that marked their earlier release. They’re stoking the embers of that fire once again, though, on Another Shape and it feels good to see the madness back in their eyes.

The band incorporates free jazz and a heavier stroke of prog into their usual mix of doom, psych and motorik German references here. Saxophone splashes over every inch of the record, and the frantic squalls fit right into their particular maelstrom. From an opening cut that pushes past the fourteen-minute mark, to their skronk-greased breakdowns, it’s an album that’s not working off of any preconceived set of expectations. They’re playing purely to torch the turrets on their personal temples, channeling the heat of the blaze into a set that radiates genesis and destruction like never before.

The howl of sax seems to have awakened something in them and its great to have one of Scandinavia’s rawest units back in fine form. The record boasts some guidance from label co-head and Causa Sui member Jonas Munk. His production, along with the searing third guitar he’s lent to their gauntlet gives the album a lot of its vibrancy. There have been a lot of great psychedelic records this year, but Another Shape of Psychedelic Music is steadily pushing its way to the top of the pile. It may not be the shape of psych to come, but it’s definitely among the best shapes 2018 could ask for.



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Al Doum & The Faryds

During a magical hangover of the ‘70s jazz found funk and psychedelia then wrapped their tendrils into its own serpentine form. This period birthed the best electric of Miles, Sun Ra dabbling with soul and Don Cherry ripping at the shreds of the universe to push rhythm through a black hole and pull it out the other side. The long tail in the movement saw plenty of bands utilize what they’d heard in the freest of moments and fold it back onto their own sounds. The German Progressives from Can to Vuh to Düül all found that same wormhole that their jazz-psych contemporaries were sailing through and they traversed the light bridge it provided to the center of the Earth to pound out the sound of the beating heart at the center of the beast. Meanwhile Hawkwind and Heldon took the sound to the quasars and etched out the framework of Spacerock as it was handed down by the gods.

On the backs of this era rises Spirit Rejoin from Al Doum & The Faryds. The band’s latest is snatching cosmic jazz back from the heart of the sun – pushing past those Spacerock quasars only to slingshot back with frightening velocity for a trip to the center of the mind through psychedelic shred. The Milanese band taps into the holy altars of their neighbors to the East, divining Kosmiche moments with the same reverence and quest for the edges of perception that drove Krautrock’s core like a mad engine. Unfit to be simply labeled a modern jazz album, like Brooklyn’s Sunwatchers the Faryds are a pure psychedelic experience devouring skronk, lashing out with guitar drenched in the ozone puff of amplifier fallout and tumbling over polyrhythms like the current crop of psychedelic Swedes. The record is the distillation of an age of discovery, looking back with perfect hindsight at what each pocket of progress was accomplishing and brewing it all together into an enticing potion. This one’s not for the lighthearted.



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Sunwatchers

New York’s Sunwatchers straddle the line between psych and jazz with expert precision, but that’s not to say that they’re keeping the line neat between the two. The band’s latest record, II, flows with the air of free jazz, picking up on the skronk of Ayler and the eclectic mayhem of later, electric Miles. The first couple of tracks on the album pin themselves to the genre rather well, but as they progress into the groove and distortion laden “Silent Boogie” it becomes clear that this record is also a top tier face-melter that’s itching to topple into the psychedelic pit. They wander between their two poles quickly and seamlessly so that the listener never quite knows where a song will take them. It makes for an album that’s as dizzying as it is freeing.

Despite being a purely instrumental endeavor, its impossible to mention Sunwatchers without bringing up politics. The band has long been advocates for social change, equality and tolerance – going so far as to donate their album sales to charity. This time around they’ve taken their band crest/mission statement, long included in some form in their artwork, and put it on the cover, front and center. It cements their standing as a musical force for change and, while some might see it as trending towards a year of public statements said for applause with little backup, the donation of the proceeds to prison abolitionist charities seems like the public is just catching up to them.

Besides, if this year needs a sound it might be the furious skronk and bent metal n’ feedback wail of Sunwatchers. Sometimes a good scream into the void and a knotted riff comedown is the only recourse to feeling powerless on a daily basis. If that kind of catharsis sounds appealing then I’d wholeheartedly recommend a few spins ‘round with Sunwatches on the speakers. II only crystallizes the band’s hurricane in a bottle sound and repurposes it for the common good.



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Bitchin’ Bajas

You know a lot of bands, labels and outlets have embraced the cassette as a viable format again, and while I love the economy and accessibility it provides to smaller artists, as a release from a larger indie it sometimes seems indulgent. Not so much for Bitchin’ Bajas, though. I see the release of a double cassette version of Bajas Fresh as tantamount to who they are – the front edge explorers of the new new age and warriors of a freer jazz. They’re not only looking to springboard off of the dusty thrift store tapes found cluttering up your aunt’s forgotten rec room during her meditation phase in 1988, they’re turning that rec room into an aesthetic, that need to center yourself into a right, and crafting a synth religion all their own

They’re fresh off a few collabs, most notably with labelmate Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, so this is the first time in three swings around the sun that we’ve gotten a chance to hear them undiluted, unencumbered and chasing the same flawless bliss that they’ve so often driven towards. That bliss is here, channeling the glowing chyron euphoria of public access library tapes melted into a puddle of incense wrapping and happy little trees with an unsettling rot inside. Be wary, because that rec room vibe they’re inhabiting is packed to the drop ceiling with the discarded interests of more than one relative. It seems that someone may have scotch-taped those old relaxation cassettes and dubbed on a free jazz primer in their spare time.

The group has sought to put forth seamless listening experiences before, creating drops out of time that pull the listener down a half-step to a floating world parallel to our own, but here they achieve that goal far greater than in any incarnation they’ve yet attempted. They stitch synths to flutes and droning horns in a way that feels like they’ve always just fed off one another in a life cycle we can’t see. Cascading down from their first two tracks, they incorporate a Sun Ra cover as if it were canon to them, letting the master’s drones thrum alongside their own in perfectly scratchy bliss. And that’s the core of Bajas Fresh, it’s opening the chakras and then pushing them too far – glowing serenity corded by time and dust until its something new, something more alive than before. This is why you don’t jump the gun on declaring what’s best for any given year. Who knows when a masterstroke is lying in wait at the end of November?




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Sunwatchers – “Silent Boogie”

Brooklyn’s Sunwatchers follow up their chaotic record for Castle Face with a new slab for perennial favorite Trouble in Mind. The first cut off of Sunwatchers II is a searing skin-melter with Jeff Tobias’ sax splitting hairs between the fult-tilt simmer of ’60s garage-punk and the unrestrained reaches of free jazz. They come down hard with a rhythm tumble that’s unstoppable and a sway over skronk that’s formidable and menacing. They remind me of the psych-jazz tumble of Cato Salsa/The Thing/Joe McPhee’s Two Bands and a Legend in a very good way. Gonna want to get into this when February rolls around, it’ll brighten up a the dark days and warm the cold nights.




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Greg Fox

So the backstory on this one has to do with Fox rigging up software (via Sunhouse) that reacts to to his drumming, breathing the life from his motion into virtual instrumentation. Frankly, we’re pretty much all out of our depth on the physics here, but the emotional response is much further reaching and harder felt. The Gradual Progression nods to the free flowing works of Don Cherry and Pharoah Sanders while tugging at the the slightly more reigned moments of Sun Ra, but Fox doesn’t merely paint by erratic numbers in the shades of his heroes – he updates the free jazz workbook with a few moves that are distinctly his own.

Where “Catching an L” hums with the same sax energy that would be roundly reminiscent of another age of dissocitative jazz, Fox’s beats crunch with a sound that plays to his post-rock connections, bludgeoning with precision and bite. And that song actually stands as an outlier of defined pound among an album riddled with drumstick bullet holes and cascades of rhythmic ripple that fling themselves far afield of anything that feels moored to solid ground in the stream of consciousness. Fox’s pieces aren’t just complicated drum primers for NYU undergrads looking to notch their way into a teacher’s field of vision. Fox wields rhythm and his associated action painted tones with a scientists aim and an artist’s heart.

The album is dazzlingly complex, but never suffers from feeling weighted down in technology. Far from it, the album’s synth tones breath with wonder worthy of OMNI documentaries, the percussion – even when electronically generated – tumbles in ecstatic bursts that feel alive with human emotion, struggling to contain the joy and pain that Fox channels to his chosen surface. In The Gradual Procession, Fox has created a modern mountain of emotional work that transcends the touchy tags of free jazz and experimental electronic to become simply essential listening.




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Swimming In Bengal

Sacramento psych outfit Swimming in Bengal conjure up some heavy Sun City Girls vibes, while delving into the heart of Eastern psych on their latest album for Lugubrious Audio / Baggage Claim. The record wraps carpets of drone around improvisations built for sax, flute, harmonium, gourd guitar, and scattered shards of percussive debris. Its easy to play at creating psych that wanders into the exotic, try on a few fancy hats and pretend that non-Western music carries the only chords that “speak to you,” but SIB seem to have spent a bit more time laying into the meat that supports carrying the mantle here.

Multi-instrumentalist Tony Passarell worked with Danish-Congolese saxophonist and composer John Tchicai, and has gone on to build a unit of players that admirably blend the drive of European free-jazz, South Asian traditional tones, drone and good ole flame roasted psych. Garden of Idle Hands builds as an album, first and foremost, each track a cracked cobble stone in its craggy and crusted structure. The band has a way of imparting a worn feeling of age, timeless and turbulent to their work and as such there are few moments in the record that feel like the were laid to tape in 2016. They dart through worn street tapes picked up at adhoc Indian markets, ’60s jazz flare ups and subsequent ’70s jazz infatuations with stronger connections to non-American sounds. While it may sound on paper that the band is reaching to too many corners simultaneously, in the headphones is sounds like they may have struck just the right balance.


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Oneida & Rhys Chatham – “You Get Brighter”

They’ve played together in the past, including a stint at ATP in 2013 but this matchup had yet to put hte magic to tape until now. The union seems like a natural fit, though Chatham expressed doubt prior to their collaboration, but one listen to some of Oneida’s less rock driven material of late (the dub-inflected work on their split with Teeth of the Sea, the extended drone workouts of A List of the Burning Mountains) speaks to a like-minded meeting of innovators. The first track from the collaboration is bracing and brittle, but not so divorced from rock that it doesn’t have a feeling being comfortable on stage in front of a noise-rock crowd. As the track evolves it gathers a more experimental direction, and the notion of having to stay in the rock lane never seems like a given. The song growls and then breaks into a buzzing sea of feedback, chewed glass and wire. Its just the sort of track that I’m looking for with those two names up on the marquee.



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Forma

On Forma’s third album they’ve expanded their scope to embrace a looser approach through improvisation, though they don’t dive into the idea lightly. Physicalist is constructed in two halves, the first follows their setup of vintage synths and Terry Riley/Faust vibes with occasional flecks of Cluster strewn about the synthscape. The second, plunges the band into a broader vision populated with flute, acoustic instrumentation (a first for the band) and elements of free jazz. Since the LP version is setup as a double LP, essentially they act as companion records with each focusing on a different scope, tied together by the idea of repetition and improvisation with an emotional arc fusing the halves through what feels like a cycle of self-discovery.

The first side is bound by their usual setup, but that doesn’t mean that they haven’t taken a few steps forward. Barring the more techno oriented Cool Haptics EP, the band worked in groove oriented Kosmiche on both their eponymous LP and its follow-up Off/On and both of those releases feel much more tightly wound than anything on this side of Physicalist. From the cover art by influential psych designer Robert Beatty, to the double LP sprawl, everything here seems oriented to be more expansive, more attuned to the informative qualities of electronic float. The band works through tension and turbulence on this first portion, slowly unhinging its hold on reality.

The second side takes the notion of the infinite and lets it free. There’s a distinct progression along the first half towards looser and looser ends and they continue the unraveling on the second half to great effect, each track seems less and less tied to the idea of rhythm. They work this system right up until the title track, which bursts out of the second half in a vibrant and celebratory blast. Its still built into their well of synth, but adds a layer of pop that the band hasn’t really embraced. Its as if the tension and serenity of the preceding tracks melt into the background for the band to break free into a hedonist dance, leaving the academia of the album behind. Then, as a sobering up of sorts, the final improvisation rises like the sun over the tresses of the bridge line along the river, a knowing sign that tomorrow’s here and that a sobering reality awaits. Though, for the moment, that track hits like the halting bliss of a night well lived, the calm before the comedown. Its a great step forward for the band and one that knocks them out of any danger of being accused of stasis. They’ve built an well-oiled arc that uses the album format in a way that fewer and fewer seem to relish these days.




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