Our sporadic deep listening weekend series continues, two points of view, same recording ...here's post one:
Kirk Knuffke & Mike Pride - The Exterminating Angel (Not Two, 2013) ****
What would you do if trapped in a room with others where the usual social conventions eroded and evaporated one by one forcing you to deal with reality, which is, essentially, surreal?
As with the thought-provoking film of the same title (made by Salvador Dali’s radical contemporary, Luis Buñuel), this is an album where you are left on your own. Track 6, “Super Dixon,” is 23 minutes long and also mirrors the structure of the film where the ending encapsulates what’s been said, but, then again, not really. As with the film, you are forced by default to deal with the human frailty of wanting to eat sheep even though you’re a free-thinking vegetarian.
Mike Pride (drums and percussion) and Kirk Knuffke (cornet) push themselves to confront difficult moments, bringing listeners right along. But you’re not really a sheep are you? Are you? Throughout, you will be asked to deconstruct various aspects of definition and identity through asking layers of questions. And, in the true surrealist tradition, none of these questions have answers. The musicians succeed in pushing through every false boundary they create, but will you?
The contextual backstory of existential paradox underlines the musical risk-taking involved here. Just pairing the drums with cornet sets up all kinds of possible cliché’s and regretful potentials – but these two, in forcing the trap, avoid the trap. Never once do we hear any kind of sound that suggests the militaristic history of the two instruments. And never once does the space feel empty, too treble, or sparse or thin. Each musician pushes the conventions of his instrument. The results are refreshing, and I would describe this album as first and foremost a study of the purity of sound. This, in and of itself, has a cleansing effect, true to the Zeitgeist of the fierce angel totem.
Screams, dreams, sighs, cries, moans, and Zen-Koans. Wolves, bears, whales, sheep, robots. Radio transmissions leaping across computerized nightmare scenarios. Divined directions for swimming inside volcanoes. Industrial hammering. A whispering breath. The long tone of desire. Space, lots of space, less space, space as sound, breathy suggestions of sound, a suggestion of an idea of sound, plaintive questions, succinct statements, long paragraphs of rumination, repetitive sonic motifs that really don’t repeat yet are still repetitive….so many times I thought: did Pride switch to trombone or something? Has Kirk ditched the cornet altogether and simply opened his vocal cords? The word inventive doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Knuffke takes his advanced breath control, breathy vocalized emotional utterances and multi-layered phrasing technique into a landscape constantly shifting. Pride uses sparse roll-like embellishment figures, snare taps, woodblock cracks and washy cymbals in new ways. Most impressively, he takes the skin scrape to a new level, conjuring a variety of timbre rarely achieved – who would think of it?
Pride goes beyond sound play, though, and somehow provides the essential role of the drummer without playing in a conventional manner. It is almost as if he is reacting to what Knuffke is NOT doing and vice-versa. Meaning, each plays to the other’s implied statements. I don’t know how that is possible, but there it is.
Example: Track 3, “Moritz”: Near the end what happens between them with the drum brushes and the soft breathy horn feels like they’re painting with oils on two canvases side by side -- and their gestures lead to the realization that it is really your hands doing the painting. Here, Knuffke’s ending is so soft, it is almost imperceptible…..
The most fascinating aspect is that throughout this album, the swing is there. I don’t know how that can be because this is the most abstract album I’ve ever heard. Yet, there it is. This speaks to the integrity of the musicians and the success of the project, because if the swing were absent, then Pride and Knuffke would have fallen into their own trap and become abstract artistic sheep churning out surreal sound clichés made only for effect. Instead, we get music. Music that is not there. Marvelous!
Can be purchased from instantjazz.com.
Characterizing this album as the most abstract one has ever heard is a curious sentiment for a reviewer on this blog...as is the idea that without some vestige of a "swing" feel, that it wouldn't qualify as music!
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