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Saturday, April 22, 2023

Ingrid Laubrock - The Last Quiet Place (Pyroclastic, 2023)

 By Ian Lovdahl

I’ve found that appreciating avant-garde music is more satisfying with a healthy imagination. I suppose that applies for all kinds of expression, but I think it’s safe to say that some tunes you may hear on the radio require less individual input than others; which is fine, there’s nothing wrong with low-stakes art. Yet, when it comes to freer forms of music, it helps to put a little effort into active listening and to allow your thoughts to run wild. And The Last Quiet Place, the latest album from bandleader Ingrid Laubrock, is prime listening material for the mind’s eye.

Right from the get-go, “Anticipation” reveals the expressiveness of Laubrock’s sextet. The album opens with a humble guitar chord carried by gentle strings and percussion crackling like a campfire. Its pastoral charm evokes images of western sunsets and amber waves of grain, which I find really interesting as the track soon develops into a distorted free jazz conversation between the six players. The group continues experimenting on the humorously-titled “Grammy Season”, which I hope is prescient for next year’s award ceremony. Out of all the jazz explored throughout The Last Quiet Place, “Grammy Season” sounds the most like a true free jazz jam, with all players sharing the spotlight as they bounce off each other for eight minutes. It’s a solid moment, but the best is yet to come.

Jangly guitar and a softly-pattering drum kit set an almost-alternative stage for Swift's seesaw violin on the eponymous track. "The Last Quiet Place" lives up to its name; sonically, the song sounds as if it's the sextet recorded in a vacuum, as players emerge from and fade into the formless void. Brief hushes fall over the band to await Laubrock’s searching saxophone and Formanek’s diligent double-bass, soothing the anxiety-ridden strings before they’re swallowed by silence. The band’s ability to craft dynamic soundscapes continues with “Delusions”, which kicks off with a noisy, experimental jam, somewhat zeuhl-like in its frenetic twistiness. Rainey’s clacking sticks lead the six players back into the mute wilderness where they sway with languid beauty, exhibiting characteristics of avant-garde and third stream. Seabrook’s ear-grabbing guitar reintroduces listeners to the weirdness, punctuated by blasts of sax and snare drum. “Delusions” is definitely my favorite track on the record and captures a real dynamite performance by the group that shouldn’t be missed.

Penultimate track “Afterglow” has the feel of a dirge-like interlude, as lamenting violin and cello guide an ambling procession. Eventually, Laubrock’s sax interjects, along with amplifier groans and introverted drums. Explosive guitarwork and dramatic strings feature heavily in the lengthy conclusion “Chant II”, an unpredictable standout. Laubrock’s sextet slowly ascends from the silence, plateaus with free and fiery intensity, then descends into dissonant depths, repeating a warping pattern until the quiet takes over completely. A very satisfying and cinematic finish to a relentlessly imaginative album, Laubrock’s most recent effort is as brilliant as it is creative.