There’s a particular strain of free/jazz/avant/noise that continues to reverberate through contemporary underground, combining the everything-louder-than-everyone-else screams of groups like Last Exit and Massacre with the No-Wave atonality of Branca, Chatham and the like, producing an alchemical blizzard that still intoxicates players of varied stripes. True, it might seem a tad macho and blustering at times but at their best – as on the three releases featured here – the thundering, open-ended polyrhythms and volcanic licks of guitar and(or) saxophone induce a heady rush that puts the tinny buzz of punk to shame.
Usually, these groups depend upon intuition and interaction to lift what might otherwise be a cavalcade of shredding into something more than the sum of its parts. This isn’t case with The Inevitable, mainly because this white-hot tempest of guitar, double bass and drums is solely the work of US avant guitar mainstay Weasel Walter, who laid down each piece of seismic jigsaw on his ownesome then shaped them into the two slabs of pile-driving whoomf.
Its relationship to the canonical idea of ‘jazz’ may be somewhat tangential, found more in the flowing openness of the drum rhythms that circle around the incessant riffing, like amoured assault helicopters swooping down from the heavens. Nevertheless, The Inevitable is an awesome work of sonic tessellation, even more inspiring for its organic feel. It really does seem like the result of three people in a room, playing their hearts out, locked in an act of communal spontaneous noisemaking while loose enough for each individual voice to let rip when it needs to. Granted, a single bum in the producer’s seat means that group noodling is avoided, but just as heartening is Walter’s ability to keep his own excesses in check, turning a messy blowout into a scorching death ray of sustained fury, the tidal surge of his surf-inflected guitar adding a nice rusted clang to the general noise that is closer to the classic Sharrock burn in spirit rather than actuality. A riot.
The ghost of jazzes past pokes its spooky grey beard into the precision-tooled shapes of Forebrace’s Steeped, in the shape of bandleader Alex Ward’s clarinet, whose bluesy swoops and elastic hoots poke the rigid shapes of his colleagues’ rocky jams into something more unpredictable.
Ward is one of those players whose creativity streams out in all directions, from the quirky free improv seen in his duo with Kay Grant in the Making Rooms box set from earlier this year, through to the questing merger of composition and improvisation in works such as Projected/Entities/Removal and Glass Shelves and Floor. Forebrace sees Ward working with a straight-ahead bass, drums and electric guitar trio, with surprisingly synergistic results, his clarinet morphing from barbed wire skronk to lock with guitarist Roberto Sassi’s shredding on opener Hive, to more melancholic hoots on the rusted stomp of Crest. Drums and bass are bolted to a tighter grid than in Weasel Walter’s orgiastic thunders but that doesn’t stop Ward and Sassi letting rip all over the place – although Steeped is at its most satisfying during its occasional codas, when the group’s blocky beats collapse into wrecked, fluttering drifts.
Theoretically, noise veterans Borbetomagus have no place in this piece, having formed a good few years before Last Exit and dealing out a venomous slick of screech that bears little resemblance to the multi-headed attack of Brotzmann’s grumpy crew.
But they’re here in celebration of the fact that the Eastcote Studio Session marks no lessening of their potency. While the liner notes pick out a lineage that stretches back to Ayler’s Spiritual Unity and Coltrane’s Ascension, I prefer to see it as the latest instalment in Jim Sauter, Don Dietrich and Donald Miller’s periodic missives from the void. Its dense, congealed salvos have more in common with the thunderous scourings of the Japanese noise maestros who note Borbetomagus as an influence – Hijokaidan and the like – than any jazz-based configuration, however out-there they may be. Not so much as wall of sound as crushing wave of scorched earth dissonance that reduces everything in its path to dust, this is a frazzling harangue, with cavalcades of weird electronic bloops poured onto churning rivers of frenzied guitar fuzz and heinous sax feedback.
Eastcote Studio Session is a relative rarity for the trio, having been recorded in a studio rather than documenting a live session. Sensibly the focus is on letting the band get on and do their thing in as unrestrained manner as possible while the backroom teams concentrates on capturing the hi-jinks in crystal clear fidelity. Particularly affecting is the section about 11 minutes into DIS when all of the aggression melts into a sticky custard of chirps, malignant hum and chattering squawk, the almost pastoral skitter propelled forward by a bellyaching feedback groan that refuses to quieten down into chillaxed ambience. Companion piece DAT is even more astringent, the continual scrape of its extended harsh burst like an entire grindcore discography replayed by an army of tin cans. An adrenaline rush for sure. Remember to pack your earplugs.
http://shop.relativepitchrecords.com/STEEPED-rpr-1052.htm (Download available here: https://alexward.bandcamp.com/album/steeped-2)