Some time ago I told you that my girlfriend didn’t like free jazz but she had accepted and tolerated my love and affection for this kind of music. Whenever she enters my apartment and she hears this music she usually ignores it and waits until I turn down the volume or put on something else. But when she arrived at my place after a long drive from Munich recently and caught me listening to Dave Rempis’ and Lasse Marhaug’s Naancore she actually almost screamed: “What the hell is this? How can you listen to something like this? Turn it off!”
I guess her hostile reaction results from the fact that Naancore is real noise in a sense Okkyung Lee once described it: noise are “sounds that are not wanted, to be abandoned, don’t quite fit in, not supposed to be there and which are not necessarily pleasant to ears and even “wrong” at certain times”. So, on the one hand Naancore really hurts (especially listeners who are not used to such music).
On the other hand the album presents another chapter of the Scandinavia-Chicago-connection which has had a certain tradition if you think of Fire Room (Vandermark/Nilssen-Love/Marhaug), Ballister (Rempis/Lonberg-Holm/Nilssen-Love) or the various collaborations of Mats Gustafsson and Ken Vandermark (just to name a few). Here Marhaug's relentless and wild combination of noise and pure lust to destroy conventional structures crashes into Rempis’ musical approach which is deeply rooted in blues textures and classic free jazz. Both have developed a highly personalized musical vocabulary utilizing noise and jazz to explore each other’s sonic universe and find a common intimacy while improvising. There nothing predetermined, both have to rely on themselves and the contributions of their musical partners. The result is a steaming, snarling, growling, and squawking inferno, Rempis’ alto sax cries are lost in distortion whenever Marhaug’s attacks him fiercely with his merciless electronics. It’s like a soundtrack for an experimental horror movie.
Well, Paul, to cut a long story short - somehow I can understand my girlfriend, this record scares the hell out of me too. The whole thing sounds ugly, hideous, dirty and evil – yet, there is a certain beauty under the surface because the music makes you feel alive as well, it makes you feel real if you commit yourself unconditionally ….. but it is not for the faint of heart!
So nice to hear from you. I'm sure you are well aware that your girlfriend is right, there is nothing sane about listening to this stuff. These are the types of sound debated by lawyers when probing the legality of torture. In fact, you may recall that you, my girlfriend, and I bravely sat through some of the more adventurous moments of the A L’Arme Festival in Berlin last summer, and all that seems melodious compared to the electric mayhem that Mr. Rempis and Mr. Marhaug cook up on Naancore.
Would you agree that Mr. Rempis, who we all know as a fine and adventurous musician to be possessed in mind and body by some otherworldly spirit to even conceive of this recording? What else could explain how a Chicagoan saxophonist, enmeshed in free jazz and steeped in jazz tradition, would find his way to the studio of Oslo's Lasse Marhaug and his mad array of electronics?
When they launch into track one, Skinning the Poke, it’s pure pain. High pitched manipulated tones conspire with electrical pops and fizzles, like a heated argument between peeved electrons more than a musical duet. Rempis is on fire too - I fear Mr. Marhaug may have thrown some jumper cable clamps on him and started running some current! I imagine him playing all those melodic lines as lightning bolts flow through him. Then, I see his a sax become a twisted piece of metal with keys flapping wildly as it falls from his grip to the ground, and yet it keeps on playing. Heck, it’s almost like they are personally coming to light my house on fire through extended technique!
Before I get to side 2 - entitled Strategikon - let me ask, did you ever have a Commodore Vic-20 computer? Regardless, you could enter a command like "POKE 36877,1" and the little critter would emit a high pitched squeal and not stop until you switched it off. My point, I think, is that there is something very primal in how the duo uses the electronics to rebuild, brick by 8-bit brick, my house that they burned down in the last paragraph, and it's rather amazing.
So, Martin, I am in the end compelled to agree with you, this is indeed tough stuff to listen to, but like you say, once you’ve made it over the threshold and let the duo raze any of your preconceptions of music or comfort, and then let them reassemble things, there is something utterly compelling and, dare I say, enjoyable about it?
Naancore is available as a 180 g limited vinyl version (including a download) of 300 only.
Available from Instantjazz.