Prior to the release of Black Peak I had caught the duo of Jim White and George Xylouris a couple of times and each time they had the same effect of sucking the air out of the room; stone silent crowds pretty much in awe of the power and presentation of their works. The difference the second time was that the duo were playing pieces of Peak and in place of the mostly instrumental set, Xylouris let loose with his torrent of vocals, matching the intensity of his lute work, a feat that’s easier said than done. Though the secret, or not so secret weapon in the band still remains Jim White’s tumbling, craggy and entrancing percussive work. In the face of Xylouris’ booming voice and snaking strings, for the drums to steal away some of the awe, seems like a feat in its own right.
This album sees the band stepping further into their comfort as players together, having had a longstanding relationship that hearkens back to collaborations during White’s time in Dirty Three and even longer than that as friends. Dirty Three never seemed penned in by boundaries of style, and aside from those who might balk at the World Music inclinations that arise from the Greek language vocals, neither does Xylouris White. Those vocals do present a new focal point for the album but even stripped of the droning, swooping phrasing, the songs themselves seem more akin to Robbie Basho or Bert Jansch if they had spent time exploring their free jazz sides with someone like Chris Corsano or Paal Nilsson-Love on the sticks. Black Peak feels like it touches the intense lamplight intensity of Middle Eastern psych or raga, especially on the burning “Hey, Musicians.”
White’s been known to collaborate his whole career, spending time with PJ Harvey, Nina Nastasia, Cat Power, Smog and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. The Bonnie Prince even finds his way into the mix here as well, returning the favor with lonesome harmonies on the dark-skied “Erotokritos.” Though he’s often been a seamless piece of his collaborators’ albums, here White has found himself as out front and free as in his days with Dirty Three, pushing and pulling at Xylouris’ aesthetic like a motor that’s primed and humming. The pair bring out the best in each other and its clear that while they’re having a good time making the album, they’re also pushing to find a plateau that neither have reached previously, which considering the resumes of the players involved, is a tall, tall order. Ultimately, they do seem to have found their peak this time around.
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