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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Rara Avis - Mutations / Multicellulars Mutations (dEN Records, 2013) ****½

By Philip Coombs

Trust your heroes. They are usually correct. Sometimes they are just too far ahead of you to understand them the first or second time around. Eventually they will reassure you why you liked them in the first place. Admittedly, I do long for another Vandermark 5 album, but I am in complete awe of what Ken Vandermark (reeds) has done since with the risks he takes and concepts he fleshes out. In this instance he teams up with Stefano Ferrian (saxophones) to blur 'what instrument is melodic' and 'what instrument supplies rhythm'.

On CD 1 (Mutations) of this two disc collection, with the help of some other young Italian musicians Luca Pissavini (double bass), Simone Quatrana (piano), and SEC_ (revox and instant sound treatments), they create not only a dense exploratory sound scape but a fully realized universe unto itself. It is a seemingly perfect world where there is no leader and it's residents all just get along. A great place where all the trash gets picked up and the mail gets delivered on time and all in accordance with its mission,and I never once missed the security of a drummer, as all members, and especially Pissavini and Quatrana, effectively trade off rhythmic duties throughout.

The sound treatments by SEC_ are by nature very digital and electronic but are used in a very organic way and with brilliant placement. Sometimes a quite hiss and sometimes it's like jumper cables from your car's battery to your ears. Either way it is addictive and a joy to revisit.

CD 2 (Multicellulars Mutations) is the best kept secret that wasn't kept. Here is where all of the road maps and engineering designs that went into the building of this place are kept. It consists of duos and trios of various incarnations of the five players that make up Rara Avis.  'Km', for example is Vandermark and SEC_ sparring in a duo setting but it also shines a light on this relationship that is so important on tracks like 'Genetic Drift' and 'Natural Selection'from CD 1. Knowing these interactions is of great benefit when you return to Mutations and re-live just how layered and complex it is. Both CDs work as cross references to each other, a glossary and a footnote, making each other a more enriching listening experience. Sort of like the Resonance box set but in reverse.

Yes, I am guilty of hero worship and Vandermark happens to be one of them for me, but this set isn't at all just about him. Certainly you can tell when he is playing but you can feel the equality in the contributions. They all have a great instinct to let the silences ring and yet never let a moment get wasted. One of my favorite listens so far this year.

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