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Saturday, September 3, 2022

Antoine Chessex, Francisco Meirino, Jérôme Noetinger - Maiandros (Cave12, 2022)

By William Rossi

Sometimes it's nice to have nothing to hold on to.

When you think about it, even the most adventurous free jazz and free improvisation often use the same basic language as more "accessible" music, enough vocabulary for the uninitiated to be able to at least make out a couple of words and maybe piece its meaning together. There's nothing bad about this of course and it's important for a musician to be aware and respectful of each genre's tradition and rules, if only to better break them, but as this release's title suggests (in Greek mythology Maiandros was a god and patron of the river by the same name) you need to surrender to the flow and allow this album to carry you into unknown and unrecognizable territory.

Of the three musicians on this release the only one I knew what to expect from was Francisco Meirino, fierce experimentalist and very important voice in the noise/improv scene with countless collaborations under his belt that I won't bore you with by listing but I do strongly recommend you check out the rest of his discography if you like this album. Chessex and Noetinger both bring a lot to the table, namely magnetic tape, saxophone and amplifiers, even though the trio is in such lockstep that they sound like a single, complete entity.

The first piece Cocyte & Phlégéthon (two of the rivers encircling Hades) is a true work of art and a stunning musical achievement: you are greeted by samples, field recordings and electronics that slowly build into a dizzying and seasick crescendo. The thing that first struck me was the mixing and the great use of the stereo field that really helps immerse you into the music. The other thing that impressed me tremendously is how expertly the samples get manipulated, with heavy use of EQ-ing, time stretching and other wizardry I can't even describe: you might hear something that you could swear is a saxophone only for it to sound like a swarm of flies a second later, voices that transform into drones, samples that almost sound like chords. 

After about 5 or 6 minutes of listening I realized how lost I'd gotten into this alien soundscape. There was no structure, no rhythm, no conventional instrument to anchor me and I'd just drifted with the flow, trying to keep track of the sounds and wondering if I was really hearing a sax or if it was just a sample processed with absolute precision; the track keeps you on your toes and forces you to constantly second-guess yourself.

A quick look at the lineup will clear up any doubt one might have about the instrumentation but not having read it before and having no prior knowledge made for a better experience, like hearing a completely new language for the first time. It's truly incredible how almost indescribable this first piece is. It defies expectations and will take you out of your comfort zone, because there's no comfort to be found here.

The second track Tunnel is a little more controversial in my mind. In something that sounds a lot like Sunn O))) meets Merzbow the track revolves around a heavily distorted guitar that acts as the bedrock for the samples, field recordings and synth to thrive and build. After such an abstract fist track I can see why the trio chose to go for a (slightly) more conventional sound palette and structure for this one but it's also a shame that the second half of the album abandons the completely alien feeling that accompanied the listener up to this point. There are good arguments for both points of view and no answer is the correct one but I'm in the camp of those who'd wish the album had kept the same evanescence throughout. The piece is still fantastic and I think a great many people could like it more than the first one and, ultimately, it's Chessex, Meirino and Noetinger who have the last laugh: after checking the credits I can confirm that even though I was 100% sure about it there's no guitar to be found throughout the album. Even when I was sure I'd managed to peer into the trio's music they pulled the rug out from under me yet again.

A fantastic offering from this trio and a great exercise in learning how to let go of preconceived notions and expectations and just swim through ups and downs, moments of abstract quiet and ear-shattering explosions, two very different yet complementary sides. I'm so glad I gave this album a listen and it's been on rotation since, something about its elusiveness keeps me coming back to it over and over. 

Released on vinyl and digital by Cave12.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this, thanks. But my post is more general.

Since reviews have been stripped of stars, they seem to have drawn far fewer comments. (Perhaps the page moderators can confirm?)

I know there were good reasons to try this less judgemental approach, but it seems to have led to less engagement. Which I doubt is what was intended.