Click here to [close]

Friday, January 29, 2021

The Underflow – Instant Opaque Evening (Blue Chopsticks, 2021) ****

Underflow is a trio comprising Mats Gustafsson, David Grubbs and Rob Mazurek. Instant Opaque Evening is a double vinyl release and the follow up to their self-titled 2019 debut (Corbett vs Dempsey/Underflow Records). The recordings are taken from intensely focused live performances from January 2020 shows in France, Belgium, Italy, and Poland. The group enjoyed the freedom of surprising one another in different ways each evening. It works, and the material includes long instrumental improvisations and shorter works with the trio interacting as a whole. 'Instant Opaque Evening' conveys this broad sweep, from the full-tilt electronics of 'Self-Portrait as Interference Pattern' and the climax of the seventeen-minute 'Instant Opaque Evening' to the inspired, alternate universe chamber music of 'Planks' and 'A Thin Eternity'. The trio also recorded spontaneous arrangements of three previously recorded songs by Grubbs, 'Gethsemani Night', 'An Optimist Declines', and 'Cooler Side of the Pillow.'

The trio met in Chicago during the latter 1990s where they were individually participating in different events of free improvisation, experimental rock, and more. Gustafsson and Mazurek appeared as guests on Grubb's collaboration, Gastr del Sol albums Upgrade & Afterlife and Camoufleur respectively). Shortly after this, Grubbs and Gustafsson recorded two duo albums, including Apertura.

David Grubbs has played with Gastr del Sol, the Red Krayola, Squirrel Bait, Tony Conrad, Susan Howe, Pauline Oliveros, Will Oldham, and many others. He's the author of books The Voice in the Headphones, Now That The Audience is Assembled, and Records Ruin the Landscape.

Mats Gustafsson, is an improviser, composer and solo artist and has performed alongside Sonic Youth, Merzbow, Jim O'Rourke, Barry Guy, Otomo Yoshihide, Yoshimi, Peter Brötzmann, Neneh Cherry, Christian Marclay, Albert Oehlen, Ken Vandermark and the working groups FIRE!, THE END, LUFT, ANGUISH, and Gush as well as collaborations with contemporary dance, theatre, art, poetry, and projects with noise.

Rob Mazurek is a multidisciplinary artist focusing on electroacoustic composition, improvisation, performance, painting, sculpture, video, film, and installation. He spent much of his creative life in Chicago, then Brazil and currently lives and works in Marfa, Texas. He leads/co-leads ensembles of various sizes and shapes including his flagship large ensemble Exploding Star Orchestra, Chicago Underground and São Paulo Underground. He has collaborated with Bill Dixon, Pharoah Sanders, Roscoe Mitchell, Jeff Parker, Nicole Mitchell, Chad Taylor, Jim O'Rourke, Naná Vasconcelos, and many others.

'Instant Opaque Evening' sets out the recording credentials and is an exploratory number with a quiet start before developing into a series of interwoven lyrical meanders, with breathy sax and well placed electronic interludes. There is a sense of evolution as the piece progresses and the players interact with ever-increasing complexity and expansion, picking up on each others' musical ideas, interspersing their own. There is a slightly uncomfortable introduction of electronically enhanced sonorous tones over which the trio improvise and explore. The vocal effects add emphasis and atmosphere to the almost seventeen-minute long track.

'Planks' is ethereal and intense, whilst 'An Optimist Declines' is rich, heavy and the vocals are sung over chordal lines that weave into each other, with the sax emerging as a voice from a different origin. There is a Celtic feel as the sax and guitar create almost a bag-pipe sounding collision with the extended notes of the sax hanging over the guitar chords. It is both noisy and a delight.

'Self Portrait As Interference Pattern' is a crazy, constantly morphing track with reverberant, chordal guitar lines over which the brass and wood weave, rise and fall. The central section has trumpet soaring across the top in a frenzy of melodies before an almost static interlude on a single guitar note before the others join. The sax takes on a melody over a steely guitar before all goes quiet. A beautiful lyricism evolves to close - well almost. There is a nearly unnecessary ( but also rather lovely) explosion of noise at the very end.

' A Thin Eternity' is light, with 'Silencio' repeated in hushed voice over and over again at the start creating a sense of relaxing into the music. It works with flute and stut sax notes gently working their way into the senses, with deep intakes of breath clearly heard before the flute begins to play ever more complex phrases and the sax responds with emotion-filled notes and cries. The flute solos and there is calm, into which chords work their way gently but defiantly, creating a sense of gentle descent into nothingness.

'Not At My Funeral' is interesting for its experimental elements over intricate and varied rhythmic patterns before the trumpet soars across the top. The track develops over a series of notes that the sax holds, the guitar adding its flickering rhythms. 'Sound Of A Wet Leather Ball' begins with a delightful trumpet introduction, followed by constructed mayhem from sax, trumpet and later guitar. The wavering, loose-lipped sax interlude interjects an almost comical note and, given the title, that wet leather ball comes into mind, the image quickly chased away as the track develops into a rhythmic, pounding, powerful number which is both relentless and mesmeric. The sudden dropping out of the pounding rhythm in the final section serves both as a surprise and an encouragement to listen deeper.

'Gethsemani Night' is a song with lyrical vocals and well-structured support, showing a different side to this trio and again, there is an almost Celtic feel to the number. 'Purple Laquer Portal' begins with beautiful flute, interspersed with loud intakes of breaths and occasional shouts that take away any sense of calm before these decline and the flute tenderly sighs over the top of the other sounds which develop and envelop the number. In the second half, the sound switches to reverberating noise over a variety of rhythmic patterns. A series of sounds and stops adds a sense of excitement and menace, which, though present, never emerges in full and is negated by the final bars — a complex and intriguing number.

The closing track 'Cooler Side Of The Pillow' is a lyrical ballad and again demonstrates this trios ability to switch from experimental to a constructed format and there is naturally a switch form lyrical ballad to experimental improvisation.

This recording is both experimental yet shows the development of the relationships between the three musicians and their reading of each others' styles. A good listen and further testament to the fact that music works when you get the right combination of musicians.

Order here!

*Editor's note: today's review is a re-post from Jan 19th.