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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Lao Dan - Self-destruct Machine (self-released, 2022)

By Keith Prosk

Lao Dan presents a live solo set from 2019 with alto saxophone and dizi (a transverse bamboo flute) on the four-track, 47’ Self-destruct Machine.

Previous solo recordings occurred in pairs, separately developing saxophone and dizi, with Functioning Anomie and Going After Clouds and Dreams in 2018 and Chinese Medicine and The song of the Uninhabited Island in 2020. While it’s saxophone-forward, Self-destruct Machine joins the two instruments, though they still seem to serve as a kind of foil to each other in the context both appear, the sidelong “Clown.” In 2022 so far, Lao Dan has also appeared on two compilations from Old Heaven Books, the vital Chinese venue and label, Encore 72 Hours and Region, Music, and Practice Vol. 1 .

Three of four tracks are all alto, alternately excavating high-register sounds with a singular ferocity to disentomb the squealing soul of a piercing overtone from any warmth in its entourage of harmonics and crooning soulful melodies in gravel-throated growls and swaggering vibrato with a propensity to spiral into slurred free freakouts. If saxophones could scream. It is impassioned. Doubly so during intervals of agonized vocals babbling in tongues that bleed into saxophone’s tortuous fits. “Clown” is perhaps a little lighter. In part because the first half featuring dizi is comparatively spacious, its breathy play given room to breathe, tender melodies quavering gently. And while its sound sometimes stabs at higher registers, its material makes it mellower than metal. The second half is a switch to saxophone, now more raspberries, duck, and kazoo than victim, though like the flute moved towards sharp tones so too the saxophone drifts towards screech and skronk. There’s a sense of dualism at play, the two instruments’ two parts alternate humor and gravity like lifting the laughing mask.