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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Stephen O’Malley & Steve Noble: St. Francis Duo (Bo Weavil, 2012) ****

By Martin Schray

This blog is about free jazz, we all agree on that. But one of the comments to the concert excerpt mentioned below asks, where the jazz was here. Wynton Marsalis would support this opinion, in his eyes this was not jazz since this music did not swing and it was not rooted in the blues. He would label it under rock, maybe. But since the definition our blog offers for jazz is “improvised music for heart, body and mind”, this music is definitely jazz.

Stephen O’Malley (guitars) - famous for his Drone Metal band Sunn O))) - and the British free jazz icon Steve Noble (drums), who have been together in Æthenor for some time now, take a header in the first of two sets recorded at London’s Café Oto on August, 18th and 19th, 2010. Immediately, you feel as if you were a part of a collage of feedback and distorted fragments spliced together with ferocious tribal drumming. After this gloomy shock wave of sonic attacks the whole beast seems to collapse and fry out, Noble sets on his prepared drums, using even a metronome, putting rags on the cymbals, and small cymbals on the snare, while O’Malley is deeply respectful in the background, adding only sparse tones, giving the track enormous space. He seems to be listening to each tone until it vanishes into thin air, the guitar simultaneously dancing around Noble’s drum kit exploration. The whole set is condensed communication between two masters of sound, swinging to and fro between frontal, direct episodes of evil noise and long phases of reduced minimalism. But whenever Noble and O’Malley accelerate, the result is a psychedelic trip dragging you down to unknown areas of your soul.

In the first part of the second set O’Malley is using loopers and sustain pedals, it seems that there are at least two guitars building up exuberant layers of fragmented noise before the music comes to an abrupt stop. Both musicians seem to be looking for orientation, there is a shy gong sound and some clicking noises here and there and deep drone chords alternate with reverberating thrills before the track finds back on its way with the help of massive chords. The rest is pure heavy metal joy. The ability to use such variations of fragility and minimal guitar nothingness combined with shredded outbursts of disharmonic noise riffs give way to almost zen-like mysticism.

There are a lot of reminiscences in this music: Sonic Youth’s experimental albums, Glenn Branca noise, Keiji Haino’s Fushitsusha, Neil Young’s Weld, or Caspar Brötzmann’s Massaker, but without the obvious outbreaks especially the latter often provide. It is music you should listen to in pitch black nights and you have to play it really loud (even if it sounds like a cliché).

St Francis Duo is available as a download, CD, or double vinyl. The vinyl version makes sense here because each night of the duo’s residency is put on a separate disc, a set on each side. The obvious advantage of the CD is that the sets are not interrupted.

You can buy CD, LP and download from the label:

If you want to get an impression what the whole thing sounds like, you can watch this:

© stef