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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Thollem/Cline/Wimberly - Radical Empathy (Relative Pitch, 2015) ****

This moody and wonderful album pairs up guitarist Nels Cline, keyboardist Thollem McDonas and  percussionist Michael Wimberley for a journey through a heavy and hazy musical darkness.

We begin by wandering through the mist, vaporous shadows obscuring what little light there is in a barren landscape. Burnt stalks of trees rise from the scorched earth as footsteps and faint musical voices recede in the darkness. Thollem's organ pumps out low rumbles while Wimberley's attack is spry and articulate. Cline takes his time to enter, slowly building layers of sonic textures.

As the recording progresses, the music solidifies, and by the time we've hit 'Thinkers Mix', we're hearing an uptempo and spine tingling battle between the guitar and organ. The track features Cline's clean tones juxtaposed with the Thollem's stuttering shards of chords. In 'Howled Ground' we're back to wandering the scorched earth after the previous melee. It's an effective minimalist piece driven almost entirely by the keyboardist. 'The Middle', which puts us - you guessed it - in the middle of the recording, is a group effort again, this time with Thollem on piano (prepared, I believe), Cline back in soundscape mode and Wimberley negotiating the pulse between the two. When the sun shines briefly on 'So to Seep,' the impact of the journey on us travelers in only starting to becomes apparent, after all, we're only about halfway through the recording at this point!

Radical Empathy is an excellent example of three fellow travelers listening deeply to each other and creating an album of mesmerizing depth and texture. Think organ trio but not Wes Montgomery, rather Tony William's Lifetime with Larry Young and John McLaughlin ... it took a few spins in the discman before it began sinking in, but when it did, it happened fast.