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Thursday, February 3, 2022

The Resonators - Headlong (Moral Machine Records, 2021) ***

The German band, The Resonators, self describe as: “The sonic realm of Frank Gratkowski's new quartet echoes a number of styles and decades of musical changes. Always on the basis of free, energetic jazz, the four exceptional masters surf through 70s rock, noise with a dash of psychedelic. A breathtaking flight from Ornette Coleman's Prime Time to Jimi Hendrix.” This description encapsulates the diverse music to be found on this seven-track album.

The group features: Frank Gratkowski (reeds: saxophone, clarinet, flute); Sebastian Müller (guitar); Reza Askari (bass); and Thomas Sauerborn (drums).

The opening track on this May 19, 2021 release, 'It is best to dash in headlong,' is aptly titled and it is the strongest track on the album. It is a tumbling, headlong five minutes and twenty-nine seconds of unrelenting, high-energy free improvisation that elides into track two with the emergence of a sixteenth-note rock groove. In fact, tracks one through four are a single improvisation that has been cut into four individual tracks that elide into one another. This has also been done with tracks five and six.

Track two, 'Subgame,' has a spacey, jam band vibe, albeit with some moments of aggressive and noisy, in-time improvising from the quartet. Track three introduces mostly textural, free improvisation until the end when the rock-influenced improvising of Sauerborn reappears and subsides to track four’s bowed bass and cymbals, flute, and electronic pads. Track four, 'Baburu Keiki,' is very nice textural, free improvisation with an expansive, orchestral or cinematic quality. In addition to track one, this is the other standout track on the album; both tracks demonstrate focused intention, albeit in strongly contrasting musical contexts.

The rock/jam band feel returns on track 5 with a heavy eighth-note drum groove and guitar riff; eventually this is stirred up into some energetic free improvisation reminiscent of track one. Ultimately this gives way to a quiet recap of track four’s cinematic character but with the constant hinting at, and emerging of, the rock/jam band influences. This recurring mix of rock/jam band elements with free improvisation is what I presume the Prime Time comparison is regarding in the group’s description.

Finally, track seven feels like a summation of all of the varied elements of the album; a kind of closing statement that summarizes the wide-ranging material at play.

This is a disparate first album from The Resonators. The album’s continuity would be the focus on improvisation through a variety of musical contexts; i.e. it has a little something for everyone that is into improvised music, but as a whole it won’t be for every listener. After multiple listens, it is difficult to grasp the album’s wide-ranging, collage-like material as a unified whole. Is it free jazz, free rock, free improvisation, or something else? That depends on the track and the moment. For those into various rock, metal, or jam band genres, and who have an adventurous ear, (maybe even some Hendrix fans?) this could be the album to introduce them to the world of creative music and free improvisation. It will be fascinating to hear what future releases from this group will present and what direction their music will take as it develops.