David Birchall, Sam Andraea and Otto Willberg are part of an emerging cohort of players working at interface of fire music and free improvisation, a bunch of cats who relish blurring those borders and the resulting messiness of approach. It’s the opposite of the rather studious air gap built up between those two disciplines in the 1970s and 80s by the post-SME generation of improvisers, with untrammelled hybridity taking the place of ideological purity. (If you need more names, check out Raw Tonk maestro Colin Webster, drummers Andrew Lisle and Andrew Cheetham, guitarists Anton Hunter and Dirk Serries, and reedspeople Dee Byrne and Cath Roberts.)
There’s no membership card for this crew, and it’s by no means a closed shop. But the fact remains that that every time you bring someone new into the mix you risk upsetting a delicate balance of understanding and challenge built up over innumerable exchanges. In this instance, however, the resilience and adaptability of Birchall, Andraea and Willberg means it’s a gamble worth taking. Thus the addition of no-input guru Toshimaru Nakamura to a trio of musicians whose discographies, gigs and approaches are so intertwined they have become like branches of an extended family has a pleasingly destabilizing effect. Nakamura doesn’t so much change the group dynamic on this date, recorded at Tokyo’s legendary Ftarri record shop-cum-venue back in April 2017, as much as subtly deform it. His bone-dry crackles and white-hot screeches are a lens through which his co-workers’ interactions are refracted, intensified and occasionally disrupted.
Andreae’s sax honks and parps are as grouchingly well-judged as ever, his vocabulary ranging from the clicks and scrapes of extended technique to mischievous twirls of abrasive melody. Every huff and blart create their own spaces within hectic sonic environs – check his joyful, elephantine wails on halfway through ‘Prism Dialect’ – or puncturing the emptiness with the perfect timing of a stand-up comic. Likewise, Birchall’s gluey idioms always find ways to make themselves heard, tiptoeing through the wire wool carnage of ‘Gathering Micron Glass’ with an insouciant wink, elbowing Nakamura’s analogue splatter aside even as he glides across Willberg’s low-end grumble. Oh, and if you were expecting Willberg to play anchorman to the jagged pirouettes of the other three? Forget it. Whether he’s laying out grating, Henry Grimes-style arcos, yobbo thumps or careful, ninja-style plucks, this guy gets involved. The result is a band that’s less like quartet and more like a gaggle of rowdy planets, continually in motion around an invisible sun.