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Monday, January 4, 2016

The Bureau of Atomic Tourism - Hapax Legomena (RAT Records, 2015) ****½

The Bureau of Atomic Tourism, or BOAT, is just your typical avant-fusion international superteam. A sextet led by drummer Teun Verbruggen, the BOAT has a core quartet (Verbruggen, Andrew d’Angelo on saxophone and bass clarinet, Nate Wooley on trumpet, and Jozef Dumoulin on Fender Rhodes) with rotating guitar and bass. This time around, the seats are filled by Hilmar Jensson on guitar and Tim Dahl on bass. Once again, the BOAT uses a unique term as an album title, this time referring to a single instance of a word within a given context (i.e., the only time a word appears in a language, an author’s written works, or a single text). That’s an apt description of BOAT’s sound and style, which is nearly one of a kind.

There’s a lot to dig into and discover on this album, so I’ll just hit on three highlights that show the range of the group.

“Hilsnur” kicks off the album with a calpyso, avant-funk groove, reminiscent of Threadgill’s Make a Move group, until Verbruggen takes a solo turn and the guitar and bass turn on the distortion. d’Angelo switches over to bass clarinet, and he and Wooley end the song with horns screaming over Dahl, Jensson, Dumoulin, and Verbruggen’s heavy, syncopated rhythm.

Dumoulin’s “Carlientje en Haar Bootje” is the extended center of the album, and it’s just gorgeous. After the initial sing-song motif, d’Angelo takes the first solo, on saxophone this time. The middle is given over to a long and spacey interlude, but Verbruggen, Dahl, and Jensson come in with a propulsive background for a wild solo from Dumoulin. By the time d’Angelo and Wooley come back in with a unison line, the sound is thick and atmospheric and very funky. When everyone abruptly drops out, I expected I was about halfway through the song’s 12 minutes, and was surprised to find it was the end of the track. The whole thing breezes past.

Wooley contributes “Ron Miles” to this recording, and it’s a curveball for sure. The song, on the surface, would seem suited to his acoustic quintet. Here, it allows the group to show another face, with Wooley and d’Angelo singing the elegiac phrasing melody. As with many Wooley compositions, though, that lyricism gets melted by some white-hot extended technique from both Wooley and d’Angelo.

And to me, these really showcase the impressive power of this group, flipping soundscapes completely, yet making the whole sound coherent and unified. Truth be told, I was predisposed to give this one fewer stars, even after the first few listens. The reason, I’m biased towards Marc Ducret, who played guitar on past BOAT albums. He’s a superb player, and I just had it in my head that I was going to be let down by the lineup change. Instead of firing off my initial review, however, I kept listening and allowed myself to discover Hapax Legomena is a fierce album, and another fine showcase for everyone involved.


“Carlientje en Haar Bootje”