A quick warning -- do not attempt to listen to Catatumbo if you have a preconceived notion of how a melody should sound or a rhythm should go.
It's not that these elements aren't present, nor that the talented cast of saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, percussionist Javier Carmona and bassist Olie Brice do not deliver them in abundance, it's just that they happen to work under their own terms and conditions. Traditional song structures are replaced by complex weavings of tones and textures. Songs often start disparately but eventually converge, their layers even arriving at relatively logical conclusions; however, just how they get there remains somewhat inexplicable.
The opening tune 'Darkness Rarely Lasted Long' shows the inventiveness of the group, with Laubrock starting off with emotive chirps and whistles over the restrained rumble of the drums and bass. Hardly a song for its first half, it soon picks up in tempo and intensity. Musical expectations now reset, the follow up, 'Ribbons and Beads' gives Laubrock time to stretch out and create a twisting and compelling melody. Carmona's percussion is her foil as she creates little knots of notes that festoon the air. A third of the way through, Brice comes in with tentative bowed lines, almost suggestions of the notes, while the other two break out with complementing ideas.
The terrific 'Fabric Air' starts with barely audible breaths and scrapes, in fact, you may be inclined to believe your mp3 player has quit on you. But give it time, as the fluttering sax, scattered percussion and trembling bass all emerge on their own terms. Building up melodic fragments and rhythmic segments, Laubrock releases some interesting runs, leading up to a rhythmically complex interlocking conclusion.
Extended techniques are employed for effect -- like the saxophonist's ghoulish tones at the start of 'Cocuyos'. But more often than not its the contrasting wholesome sounds like Brice's bass or a melodic snippet from Laubrock that prevails and helps ground the listener. The final track, 'Viento Alisious', is possibly the most enigmatic and satisfying one. At times breaking down to near silence and other time building to small climaxes, the juxtapositions create anticipation and excitement.
The three musicians interact seemlessly making for an introspective and often quietly intense listen. There are the occasional shronks and explosive outbursts but it seems the group makes exploring unusual textures and rhythmic figures an enjoyable listen. This is an album well worth the time and effort to listen, just reserve enough time to let it sink in.
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Available from Instant Jazz