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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Hidden Forces Trio – Crows are Council (Knockturne/Clamshell, 2014) ***

By Julian Eidenberger

 The “dark jazz” tag has been bandied about quite a bit in recent years, and it’s a concept that has some appeal, at least potentially. The premise seems to be to infuse jazz with a sinister mood more readily associated with various metal subgenres. However, the problem is that many practitioners don’t live up to the promise of the concept and end up sounding like Miles Davis circa Ascenseur pour l’echafaud, only much less interesting. Hailing from Sevilla, the Hidden Forces Trio chooses a somewhat different and potentially more interesting path than reimagining Miles Davis for a metal crowd. While two thirds of the group – the rhythm section of Borja Diaz on drums and Marco Serrato on double bass – have a background in the doom metal band Orthodox (Southern Lord Records), it becomes clear soon enough that this is no mere dabbling. They take their cues from both the expressive and the abstract ends of the free improv spectrum, creating music that avoids the pitfalls of clichéd and often tedious “cinematic” takes on jazz.

That said, Crows are Council, their second full-length, displays some weaknesses, as well. Opening track Invocation/Crows are Council is emblematic of some of those imperfections: Beginning with a series of sustained tones from clarinetist Gustavo Dominguez – which apparently serve as the “invocation” –, the cut soon lets loose a barely controlled racket in an early Brötzmann vein; it’s as though the spirit invoked is furious for having been roused from slumber. Apart from the adrenaline rush, however, the track doesn’t leave a lasting impression, as it emphasizes sheer force at the expense of careful interaction. Chalybs, which is the second cut here, really should have been the opener, as it shows the band at its best; it sees Dominguez engaging in jumpy, somewhat Dolphy-esque runs, while the rhythm section pushes onward into punk-jazz territory. Thimble Capp is in a similar vein, albeit perhaps more Ayler-ish, with its initial melodic content slowly turning sour.

But the really “dark” stuff is delivered in the form of El Ejecutor and Gcod, two rather long and slow-paced tracks. The latter track is the more interesting one; it starts out with an ominous didgeridoo-like drone, only to give way to creaking and grinding noises produced by both clarinet and bass. It’s like standing inside a decaying house and listening to the uncanny sounds which herald its impending collapse. While Crows are Council is not without obvious flaws, tracks like these point the way to a potential new meaning of the term “dark jazz”, beyond (Imho) often vapid “cinematic” gestures.



Colin Green said...

I reviewed the first Hidden Forces Trio album, and was similarly unimpressed:

I’d not heard of “dark jazz” before, but I’m a complete numpty when it comes to the seemingly endless genres, sub-genres, categories and species that seem to exist, an obsession with taxonomy (I’m not accusing Julian of this) spoofed by Shakespeare in Hamlet:

“The best actors in the world, either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or poet unlimited.”

This is one of the reasons why, when I pick up a copy of “The Wire” there are whole pages that leave me utterly confused. Every issue should come with a glossary at the end to help the uninitiated.

lop lop said...

I'm kind of pragmatic about it, I think tags like that can be useful, but I agree that there are way too many of them and people just keep inventing new ones (it's even more prevalent in rock and electronic music than in jazz; some of those sub-sub genres put even Shakespeare to shame!), even when it seems hardly necessary.