Two marvellous vinyl-only releases from Tonefloat’s New Wave of Jazz imprint, containing scruffy and abrasive sessions from interrelated personnel. Kodian Trio sees the titular threesome of Colin Webster, Andrew Lisle and Dirk Serries blast through five tracks, mashing free improv clicks and clatters with free jazz-inspired hoots and hollers, all wrapped up in a waistcoat of gimlet-eyed punk attitude. Its companion Apparitions sees the trio joined by saxophonist John Dikeman for a four-headed horn-guitar and drum attack.
The similarity of line up and ferocity of planning on these two releases prompts us to consider them as a single set, like those Miles Davis’ quintet records on Prestige, even though they were laid down on separate dates. Still, I like to think of them taking place during one particularly frenetic session in a grubby basement somewhere, with Dikeman arriving just in time to inject a final burst of energy into the trio’s free-form jags (if you’re listening to the trio first) or, alternatively, laying down some molten licks to the other three’s broken-glass attack before slipping out into the night (if you start with the quartet). They’re both great, anyway, gritty and detailed in places, piercing and fluid in others, each player’s contribution well defined but never smothering anyone else with too much juice. And, while there’s possibly more space on the trio record, the quartet album offers up a nice contrast, its dense aggression positively glowering with dark energy.
The lack of a bassist means that there’s not exactly a surfeit of low-end on either record – save Colin Webster’s fine bass sax drones and howls, which on occasion sound like field recordings from some daemonic lair deep in the abyss – and this, as well as the attitude, occasionally has me fantasising that I’m listening to a Fugazi bootleg from a parallel universe, especially when Dirk Serries’ barbed wire guitar mangling strafes out into the rugged mire. He has some great moments on the Kodian Trio record in particular, wrenching out some furious, muck-splattered chords from a morass of fuzz on V as the other two flail around, desperately trying to avoid being sucked into the swamp, before they lock together for a full-on grindcore pummelling. He’s in slightly more restrained form on VIII, almost jazzy at times, essaying forth with some stuttering Bailey-meets-Grant-Green chops and cuts.
The various interlocking Venn diagrams of jazz-flavoured experimental underground musicks means that most of the personnel on these two discs have played, and recorded, with each other at least once in the past (this particular quartet can be heard in characteristically feisty form on the Live At Café Oto recording from Webster’s own Raw Tonk label). Webster’s at the centre of this mosaic, although whether this is due to an inspired nose for putting teams together or simply because I’ve kept an eye on him since his fruitful collaboration with avant-electro-turntablist Graham Dunning, I’m not sure.
Drummer Andrew Lisle has become one of Webster’s regular crew since Red Kite , a trio recording with Alex Ward, although the later Firehouse Tapes, in which Lisle and Webster go head-to-head in a furious duo jam is one I’d most recommend as an entry point (both are Raw Tonk releases and both are worth getting). Lisle is great at matching precision with force, and he is on hurricane-level form across these records, his kit-scrambling fusillades never quite blurring into indefinable noise even at their most explosive. He feels slightly groovier on the Kodian Trio album, especially on II, where his rollicking tom-rolls, rim shots and glints of cymbal bring forth images of a multi-limbed jazz cyborg. On the quartet record, meanwhile, he’s more ruthless, expunging grooves and replacing them either with all-out attack, pushing the other three forward in a primal rage of snare and cymbal, or a kind of alienated distance, holding up the action with disembodied thunks.
You get both Lisle moods on this record’s II (both albums favour Roman numerals for their track listing). At first, he’s content with a restrained patter, matching Serries’ spacey drone as the two saxes push out into looping moans and cries, one horn (possibly Webster) rasping around in the bass frequencies, buzzing with a kind of submerged rage as the other (probably Dikeman) explores a higher register, coiling around itself in a tangle of blowing. There’s plenty of tension, and the four keep it brewing for as long as they can before letting rip in all directions, filling every inch of space with a proper Jackson Pollock squall. That outburst plays itself out relatively quickly, leaving a silky, bible-black drift that’s almost post-rock in its abstractness, at first punctuated only by Lisle’s’ disjointed clatter and Serries’ fitful chord fuzz, although the squeaks and honks of the saxes ease back in whenever there’s a gap.
Merciless, dread-soaked builds are a key characteristic of Apparitions, the quartet managing to ratchet tension up to a point of unbearable cacophony with such skill that one wants them to defer the eventual release into whirlpools of sonic rubble almost indefinitely. Savouring the incipient sense of dread often trumps the euphoria of the release here, and tracks often move from a hazy, black-helicopters-on the horizon sense of eeriness through to a near-hysterical chorus of skronk and wails. Indeed, rather than bursting out in an EDM-style release, tracks often fall apart in a gristly mess, although it is deliberate demolition rather than unplanned collapse – perhaps a cheeky reminder that the journey is often far more interesting than the destination. In any case, Apparitions and Kodian Trio are a couple more fine messes for these expert players to add to their CVs, essential documents for anyone interested in the emerging generation of far-out smashers and blowers.