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Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Terror and the Beauty

By Eyal Hareuveni

Two releases of European groups that redefine 'free-improv meets free-jazz' as a brutal and noisy genre that matches sonic terrorism with rare beauty.

FS Massaker - s/t (Interstellar Records, 2017) ***½


The origins of the Austrian trio FS Massaker (no connection to the legendary Massacre trio of Fred Frith, Bill Laswell and Charles Hayward) can be traced in the sonic terrorism of local, infamous groups Sex On The Beach and Regolith. These groups of drummer Werner Thenmayer and analog synth player and label owner Richie Herbst focused on harsh walls of noise. The current phase of FS Massaker - with the addition of sax player Michael Masen - expands the raw aesthetics of former groups and suggests dense improvised soundscapes that blend the powerful, Ayler-ian school of free jazz with dark, deep drones.

The self-titled debut full-length of FS Massaker is released on cassette with a Bandcamp download option. The first improvisation is dedicated to Nigerian visual artist and actor Masai Bolaji Badejo, best known for his role of the alien in Ridley Scott’s 1979 film by the same name. This 30-minutes piece stresses the new phase of FS Massaker as a unit that can shifts quickly from delicate, lyrical segments to a brutal flow of raw noises, then explore super-fast, intoxicating tribal pulse and still manages to charm the frightened listener despite the urgent, electric storms and toxic sonic bites. The second improvisation is dedicated to another cinematic hero, the late Eddie Powell, a regular stunt for Christopher Lee and an actor who played Dracula and the Mummy. This improvisation offers a looser structure that highlights the emotional, powerful sax flights of Masen above the robotic drumming of Thenmayer and the windy synth noises of Herbst. But, as on the first improvisation, FS Massaker still feels at home when it is crisscrosses some turbulent storms and fuses occasional blasts, even if it is doing it in much more civilized manner this time.




Boris Hauf / Martin Siewert / Christian Weber / Steve Heather - The Peeled Eye (Shameless, 2016) ****½


This pan-European supergroup also adopts its own aesthetics of sonic terrorism, inspired by the late guitarist Sonny Sharrock who wanted to “find a way for the terror and the beauty to live together in one song”. This, unfortunately, only release of the doom-jazz, noise-core The Peeled Eye - first issued as a limited edition of 300 yellow vinyls, then later on disc and as a Bandcamp download option - featured four unique, experienced improvisers: British, Berlin-based, baritone sax player Boris Hauf, known from his Chicagoan group that released Next Delusion (Clean Feed, 2012) and who also runs Shameless Records; Viennese guitarist Martin Siewert, known from the groups Radian, (Fake) the Facts (with Mats Gustafsson), and Trapist, and who has played with Hauf in the minimalist electro-acoustic group efzeg; Swiss electric bass player Christian Weber, known as a double bass player who collaborates with American sax players Oliver Lake and Ellery Eskelin or Swiss Omri Ziegele but also experiments with German turntables player Joke Lenz or Viennese vocal artist Christian Reiner; and Australian, Berlin-based drummer Steve Heather who also played in efzeg and recently in Ken Vandermark’s Shelter quartet.

The interplay of the democratic The Peeled Eye is urgent, dense and heavy, bursting with impossible rushes of intensity and sheer power, as if all four musicians had tons of ideas too little studio time. Still, the frequent confrontational, violent onslaughts of Hauf, Siewert, Weber and Heather flow with great focus and tight coherence, sometimes even enjoying massive, addictive pulses, as of Sharrock’s supergroup Last Exit and often its raw interplay brings to mind the naked brutality of Sharrock’s Last Exit partner, reeds player Peter Brötzmann. But this quartet can do even more. “Heavy Quarters” suggests a threatening, enigmatic soundscape that can fit easily in a gory horror film. “Diiiiisko” matches organically skronky noise rock with screaming free jazz and “Nog” offers a delicate guitar solo between the explosive, distorted eruptions. Real shame that this is the only release of this great quartet.


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