Friday, October 28, 2005

ORPHANS

Lately it seems like I can't get more than two CD reviews into a single issue of The Wire. I send 'em three, and one just vanishes. So I've decided to place two of those orphaned pieces here, for your "enjoyment."

FIELDWORK
Simulated Progress
Pi

Fieldwork started life as a three-way collaboration, but it’s beginning to feel more like the Vijay Iyer Trio, as he’s the only original member left on this second release. Alto saxophonist Steve Lehman has replaced Aaron Stewart, and drummer Elliot Kavee has departed since the recording, with Tyshawn Sorey taking his place. Simulated Progress is a muscular-sounding disc, produced and engineered by Scott Harding (best known as “Scotty Hard,” a former WordSound and New Kingdom collaborator). He gives Kavee’s drums a pleasing bit of extra thump, filling the low-end space vacated by the absence of a bassist. On the third track, “Trips,” there’s a weird effect applied that makes them sound pleasingly artificial. Ayer’s got a light touch on the keyboard; he’s been the gleaming center of a number of discs on which he’s guested, including several Burnt Sugar albums and Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Mother Tongue. Without a bassist present, he’s required to indicate chordal structure for each piece while adding filigree and melodic ornamentation, and he balances both tasks with deftness and a quick intellect. His interactions with Lehman are high evolutions of the post-bop art form, reminiscent of the dances between Greg Osby and Jason Moran. The shortest track on the disc, “Telematic,” is also one of the most interesting, adopting an almost Latin rhythm that creates plenty of opportunities for each player to assume a temporary lead role, all in less than three minutes. Though there’s plenty of free playing here, no one in Fieldwork seems interested in the extremist clich├ęs of free jazz; there’s no screaming, no pounding of the keyboard, no smashing and slashing of the drums and cymbals. Their music is a graceful, yet sturdy sort of chamber jazz, consistently surprising and unique without pressing the issue.

*****

MINSK
Out Of A Center Which Is Neither Dead Nor Alive
At A Loss

All metal is mood music, but a new mood is now being soundtracked. Many bands have recently begun to eschew rage, discovering in its place the pleasures of slowness, of grace and a morose, manly psychedelia. Neurosis and Isis are the two most commonly cited forefathers of this blossoming subgenre, but Minsk and other second-generation slow-throb acts are moving the torch a good distance down the road. What’s most striking about this music is how adeptly it subverts or sidesteps metal’s traditional insistence on catharsis. It’s New Age music of a sort: it fills the room, and it’s often quite beautiful, but its ebb and flow are so regular and smooth that it acts as a sedative rather than a stimulant. The drums don’t crash explosively, or batter the music forward – they maintain a steady rhythm that’s not fast enough to move an audience, but not slow enough to put them entirely to sleep, either. The guitars advance and recede like the tides, roaring and downtuned but, because of the near-total absence of blues, never truly “heavy” in the Sabbathian sense. (Go back and re-hear just how swinging a rhythm section Bill Ward and Geezer Butler really were.) And the vocals are indecipherable yet essentially melancholy, like a caveman racked by howling sobs. Even a guest appearance by Yakuza saxophonist Bruce Lamont on the album’s final track can’t totally blow the mists away. Minsk are happier being stately and beautiful (always in a chest-beating way, of course) than headbanging, or inspiring headbanging in others.

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