Monday, March 8, 2021

Sounds of the City

By Paul Acquaro

Some days just call for a little more muscular sounds and others something more delicate. Fortunately free-jazz and experimental music is so wonderfully ill-defined that you can find something that fits both your mood and nice tolerance level without problem - often within the same album. Here are two bands from New York City that make a lot of sound but in very different ways. 

I Don't Hear Nothin' but the Blues - Volume 3: Anatomical Snuffbox (Irrabbagast Records, 2020) ****

I have not heard saxophonist John Irabagon’s first installment of I Don't Hear Nothin But the Blues, which was a self-titled album with drummer Mike Pride. I picked up with 2013’s I Don't Hear Nothin But Blues 2: Appalachian Haze in which the duo had added guitarist Mick Barr to the mix and I reviewed here many moons ago. At the time, I wrote "suffice to say, there is a constant stream of sounds on Appalachian Haze. Mick Barr's guitar continuously agitates, it's pokey, it's scratchy, and it punctures the blankets of sound that saxophonist Irabagon lays down. Pride's drums propel and accentuate energetically.” Well, as they say, the more things change, the more they stay same, which, to my jaded ears, is just right.

Of course, there is still no blues, so to speak, on the album. However, what is different is that if you check out the progression of the cover art, a clever cartoon depiction of the band set in a mythologized Wild West town, you’ll see they’ve now added one more to their crew - none other than the incendiary guitarist Ava Mendoza. “What," you exclaim, "another guitarist? Doesn’t Barr already fill most of the space with his electric fire and fury?" Sure does, but add Mendoza and the energy level notches up even higher. 

The 47-minute album, consisting of a single track, was expertly captured live by Randy Thaler at the Brooklyn performance space Happy Lucky #1, under the aegis of John Zorn’s Stone. This version of the Stone is a part of the expanding universe of locations and series, which is still anchored by the virtual Stone location at the New School in NYC’s West Village.   

As for the sound, Anatomical Snuffbox is a flat out scorcher. Pride provides unparalleled pounding, Barr and/or Mendoza frenetically strum and strafe, while Irabagon pushes his embouchure to the breaking point, riding the energy building up around him. There is a slight break around the 30 minute mark - maybe the band was getting a bit saddle sore from the wild ride - or maybe not. This pause, if there even really was one, only lasts a moment before it picks up and rides wildly towards the sunset. 

Yes, the quartet is unmatched in energy, but watch out for the real surprise, snaking through the underbrush are stealthy melodies and surprising harmonic ambushes. 


Jonathan Kane and Dave Soldier - February Meets Soldier String Quartet (EEG Records, 2021) ***½  

Ok, so here is a big sound, but a different approach. It’s still a noisy affair, but instead of pushing the needle to the red, it jumps hypnotically between the grooves. The 'string quartet' part of the title is an bit tongue-in-cheek title as the recording is the work of the duo drummer Jonathan Kane (a founding member of Swans) and the neuroscientist, author, and string player Dave Solider. They are are also joined on one track by guitarist Jon Creider.

Suffice to say, their sound is more than sum of the parts. The first track is cumulative, repetitive, but sweet to the ear, as it builds into a swirl of sound, mostly rock, with a pinch of new wave, no-wave, and just smile-and-wave mixed together. This is followed by “A Very Good Year”, a take on the standard associated closely with Frank Sinatra. The nostalgic melody weaves and wanders through wistful modes under coalescing into a noisy, but not-indelicate jam, Soldier’s violin sometimes a thin squeal, sometimes a raucous force. 'Requiem for Hulis Pulis’ starts austere and solid, like a sludge rock epic that builds patiently, very patiently, growing in intensity through a simple, repeating melodic statement. The final track ‘Vienna Over the Hills’ is the more experimental of the tracks. It begins with a shimmering dissonance that oozes and mutates slowly, at times crystalline and soothing and other times opaque and sharp. 

This is a fine collaboration that offers a lot for the listener to grab on to. 

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