The rebirth of Mark Wastell’s Confront records a few years back has been a very fortunate fact in the field of improvisational music. All of the label’s releases come in a gray metal-like small box, giving a certain aesthetic to the beautiful music that goes along with them.
The trio of Yoni Silver, Mark Sanders, and Tom Wheatley present NAX/XUS, which is constituted by two long pieces. Through them the trio has the time and space to explore their interactions, preserving and expanding their abilities, in a collective way.
The music is not loud (do not think of reductionism, though) but it is full of energy. The tension is clearly audible and gaps in activity are rare - you can catch the sentiment of urgency in the air. The more you listen, the more you discover quite a few surprises. Silver’s instrument of choice, the bass clarinet, is not a surprise of course. For many years now I have been in love with the bass clarinet. Its tonal colors and richness add-up with its complete grasp of the low-end sound it produces. It’s a boring cliché nowadays to mention the great Eric Dolphy, since a great number of fine artists have managed to articulate new sounds and bring new life through and in the instrument.
Repeat listening are required when the rhythm section is alive and kicking. I got the sense that I should not try to distinguish the sounds produced by the bass and the drums from those of the bass clarinet. This is a work in unison. But I must admit that their work – as always the overlooked backbone of any recording – is explicitly complex for my untrained ears. Sanders percussion work is god-damn marvelous… Wheatley’s technique of using the bow and not accentuating the rhythm by plucking (he rarely does that on NAX/XUS) is a difficult one I guess. Every choice has its risk, but this risk is minimized when it is based in a clarity of thought, great interaction, and passionate play.
The bass clarinet seems to follow the path made by the anxious rhythm section. It is the glue that makes ends meet and Silver’s treatment of the instrument reveals both its colorful qualities and its capability to place melody within the harsh road of improvisation. The three musicians seem eager to explore new ground and discover new ways of interaction and self-expression.
It’s a complex relationship, the one they are forging. It is always with great joy when I realize that collective improvisation strongly resists categorization and, more importantly, makes strong, solid statements: a social message of a collective, egalitarian life far removed from the neo-liberal lies of a society of individuals prevailing these days.