The amount of ground Three Babies covers in just under an hour is confounding. Hell, the first 15 minutes touch upon more modes of improvising than some record labels showcase in their entire catalog! Recorded during a 2012 concert at Café OTO (and the latest release from one-man Chicago label Peira), Three Babies matches UK giant Steve Beresford with two Nordic players, protean sax-man Martin Küchen and Norwegian percussionist Ståle Liavik Solberg.
“Steel Babies” starts things off shrill and loud, with Küchen’s razor-sharp sopranino jutting through Beresford’s dissonant piano stabs and Solberg’s pattering toms. By the end of the track, Beresford’s abandoned the piano in favor of some sort of synthesizer, plunging into a world of cryptic electronics for the album’s long centerpiece, “Car Babies.” Ghostly radio frequencies and tempo-shifting tape loops swirl around Küchen’s horn, which at times drops away to the slightest hint of breath. What’s remarkable is how seamless Beresford’s discordant sonic assault is—one moment you’re hearing faint radio static, the next Küchen and Solberg have locked into a rhythmic figure that’s accompanied by bird song. Wildly disparate changes in sound source come into awareness more as dawning realizations than jarring intrusions. With three minutes to go, Beresford turns back to the piano, bringing things back full circle as Küchen croaks out a delicate, almost Eastern sounding melody.
Maybe there’s something to a title like Three Babies. Beresford and Küchen are both known for their playful turns, never taking themselves entirely too seriously in an art as risky as free improvisation. And maybe there’s another angle on the babies theme, too: these guys are absolutely fearless. The whole (sonic) world’s their playground.
Listen to the album here on Bandcamp (and buy a copy! Few places offer as much bang for your buck as Peira).