Max Level

New Mellow Edwards, The – “Big Choantza” – [Skirl]

Max Level   10/25/2011   CD, Jazz

A wide assortment of jazz styles and moods on this release from NY trombonist Curtis Hasselbring’s long-running ensemble. These days the NMEs roster consists of Hasselbring, John Hollenbeck on drums, Chris Speed on reeds, and Trevor Dunn on upright bass. Hasselbring composed the material, with the exception of #7, an energetic jazz-rock version of a Sonic Youth song. The musical moods range from slow and creepy-crawly to high-energy and kind of nutty. An air of inscrutability seems to hang over the proceedings–who or what is Choantza, what does Helkakelka mean, who are Backfat and Fumi, what’s that thing on the cover? We’ll probably never know. But don’t worry about understanding it–if you’re a jazz lover there will be plenty of things here that grab you.

Nauseef/Mori/Parker/Laswell – “Near Nadir” – [Tzadik]

Max Level   10/4/2011   A Library, CD

Innovative laptop inventions share the stage with soprano sax, bass, and percussion. When I saw that Bill Laswell and Mark Nauseef were involved, I more or less expected some deep grooves, but there’s nothing like that here; the tracks are all scattered-sounding improvisations, full of space and ambience and texture. Ikue Mori creates electronic atmospheres to improvise in, Evan Parker’s sax probes every which way, Laswell’s bass chimes and rumbles, and Nauseef constantly drops colorful percussion surprises. Mix translation by Laswell. Do I even need to mention that this CD sounds amazing on headphones?

Memorize The Sky – “Creeks” – [Broken Research]

Max Level   10/4/2011   12-inch, A Library

Interestingly minimal trio work. The MTS guys have been working together for quite a while, improvising in a subtle, slow-moving style on reeds, upright bass, and percussion. On the two side-long pieces here, they add subtle electronic manipulations to the mix. The first half of Side A brings to mind a nature recording –Is that rain? Are those insects? Is that a bird? No it isn’t, but it could be. Eventually the band starts layering in other sounds and drones, more electronics and percussion. Side B is an improvised piece with instruments that sound for the most part like instruments, maybe with slight electronic modifications. Flute is in the foreground while bowed/strummed bass percolates underneath. The percussion is surprisingly inconspicuous on this piece, so understated you’ll miss most of it if you’re not paying close attention.

Blue Sabbath Black Fiji – “Blue Sabbath Black Fiji” – [At War With False Noise]

Max Level   9/20/2011   12-inch, A Library

Crazy warped noise junk from this Glasgow duo who manipulate their guitars, electronics, keyboards, voices, and probably some other stuff too, in extreme fashion. Messed-up beats appear from time to time but don’t last long, except on B3 which is the longest track and has a semi-catchy beat that goes on for a while; it’s a disco-type concoction layered with corroded sounds and voices. Overall, the record is pretty much a full-on audio assault with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, which makes it a good fit for KFJC and worth checking out. This thing was mastered by James Plotkin, always a sign of credibility in my book.

Ambarchi, Oren / O’Rourke, Jim – “Indeed” – [Editions Mego]

Max Level   9/13/2011   12-inch, A Library

Two side-long electro-acoustic explorations, spacious and minimal. Actually, it seems to be one long piece divided roughly in half. Side A (19:38) begins in a mildly alarming fashion, but then settles down into a harmonious and warm sound world; this piece might even be described as meditative. Side B (17:43) picks up where Side A left off, then adds some unexpected dissonant elements, and to my ears it’s the more active of the two parts. Ambarchi and O’Rourke show admirable restraint throughout, leaving plenty of empty space where someone else might have kept piling things on. A really interesting listening experience.

Collins, William Fowler/Gog – “Malpais” – [Utech Records]

Max Level   9/6/2011   A Library, CD

The inevitable collaboration between these two masters of atmospheric doomdrone, joining forces here to crush your mind. The huge, frightening sound of tension and malice and doom fills the empty space to bursting. There is nothing to see or hear in the blackness except your deepest fears; they lurk inside, waiting for you, hoping to lure you in and destroy you. Are you ready for this?

Stress Ape – “Time Hard” – [Hardscrabble Amateurs]

Max Level   9/5/2011   7-inch, A Library

Slow, punishing Bay Area doomcore. “Time Hard” on Side A is an agonizing listen to be sure. Then, in case you didn’t get the point the first time, Side B is a “dub version” of the same song; it doesn’t sound a whole lot different to me but it does have echo effects and such.

Krang – “Speed of Tent” – [Mammoth Cave Recording Co.]

Max Level   9/5/2011   7-inch, A Library

Murky fuzz-psyche from Canadian (Edmonton, AB) quartet. Side A is hard-driving in the manner of bands such as High Rise, but on the sludgier end of the scale. Side B is slower and is possibly more introspective–it seems to have something to do with killing buffalos, or maybe it’s about not killing them. We hear echoing vocals and tambourine during the first half, then a big wave of fuzz/guitar solo, then a quiet ending. One of the guys plays clarinet, so that may be in this record somewhere but it’s hard to tell because the recording quality is, as I said, on the murky side. Definitely worth a spin or two.

Stabat Akish – “Stabat Akish” – [Tzadik]

Max Level   8/9/2011   CD, Jazz

An impressive French sextet led by bassist Maxime Delporte, who composed all the music here. It starts and ends with jazz, but hits many different areas along the way. Due to the somewhat abrupt changes of musical direction, the music sounds fresh all the way through–there is always something new coming up, but it all flows in an intelligent and creative manner. The band (bass, drums, reeds, marimba, keys) is tight and they sound like they enjoy playing this music together. I especially liked the fine keyboard work of Remi Leclerc on electric piano, organ, clavinet, mini-moog, etc.
All tracks instrumental except for some discussion in Japanese on #7 and some laughter on the dubstyle #11. Give this classy CD a spin and see if it doesn’t put a smile on your face, as it did on mine.
Note: Tracks 9-13 make up the five-part “Brainstorm Suite” totaling 13 minutes, but they also sound good as separate short pieces.

Salmigondis – “Assez De Trop Pas” – [bimbo tower records]

Max Level   8/8/2011   12-inch, A Library

Freaky French five-member noise/music group lets it all hang out on this 2007 recording with the help of five equally freaky guests. Limited edition of 150 copies. Fuzzed-out free jazz meets bizarre spoken word ambience from hell. Squealing feedback, blurting horns, turntables, electronics, guitars, vocals, layers of grimy mechanical noise… basically just the craziest shit ever. Plus everything is in French, so good luck with that. And oh yeah, when they play live some of the members wear masks and have been known to dress up like babies and stuff. A totally incomprehensible project and I love it.

Ithi – “Persistence of Meaning, The” – [Utech Records]

Max Level   7/26/2011   A Library, CD

This duo project balances precariously on the threshold of some unholy pit of hellfire. One big push is all it would take for this evil thing to drag us over the edge and down into a nightmare of blistering flame, caustic smoke, torture, doom, and destruction. But Ithi keeps pulling back, maintaining a level of awful tension. The sound of Ithi is creepy, deep, dark, and disturbing, but always under control. We’re not going anywhere until they say it’s time to go. Track 6 is a tense, deliberate 19 minute march to the very edge. Do we jump or are we pushed?

Ligeti, Lukas – “Pattern Time” – [Innova/American Composers]

Max Level   7/25/2011   CD, Jazz

Ligeti is a marvelous, freewheeling drummer leading what appears to be a jazz band featuring piano, sax, and electric bass… but they throw us a curveball with a guy on balafon, the African equivalent of a xylophone or marimba, playing busy lines and generally messing with the rhythms and tonalities. What they’re going for here is a jazz thing, seemingly influenced as much by pattern-based composition (Steve Reich?) as it is by actual jazz. Check out the way the polyrhythmic patterns merge and diverge and then merge again; sometimes everyone seems to be playing on a different beat, but they pull it off. The playing is top notch, especially Ligeti’s drumming. An occasional prepared piano increases the unusualness factor. A 1999 session, released here for the first time I believe.

Nova Scotian Arms – “Sacred Drift” – [Sonic Meditations]

Max Level   7/11/2011   A Library, CD

Two big fat multi-layered dronescapes from Grant Evans, each around 30 minutes in length. Thick and relentless looped textures, with sounds moving in and out of the mix to keep things interesting. Nicely otherworldly. The second track has a “waves crashing” feel. We have this on CD-R but I think it’s dubbed from the original Sonic Meditations cassette release.

Art Lessing – “Lectures” – [Electric Eggplant Recordings]

Max Level   7/10/2011   12-inch, A Library

Melancholy, slightly-higher-than-low-fidelity pop on this two-LP compilation of 1999-2009 work by Sacramento bedroom recordist Dan Quillan, under his Art Lessing moniker. No contributions this time from his sometime group The Flower Vato, so Dan is singing and doing all the playing himself on guitars, violin, cello, sitar, percussion–whatever the track needs, he seems to have it lying around. Whether he’s rocking out on an up-tempo tune or crawling through a droning dirge, Quillan strikes me as a talented but eccentric musician with a unique vision. The liner notes–in the form of elaborately twisted doodling by Dan–give us the following tip: “Listen in order. Or don’t.” I concur. Several of the tracks are instrumentals.

Baylies Band – “Custodians of Arcane Knowledge” – [Spirit of Orr]

Max Level   6/25/2011   A Library, CD

One long inspired improvised piece (39 minutes) by this Massachusetts outfit. A rhythmic rising and falling free-rock soundscape– one of those “buy the ticket, take the ride” kind of things. There is no shortage of ideas as the band grinds multiple keyboards, scraping bass tones, and loose drums/percussion together into an abstract freakout that is noisy but not overly so. There’s a break at the 29 minute mark, with a few seconds of quiet before the band heads off in a different direction for the final push. I found it easy to listen to this entire piece without getting bored, but I don’t know how DJs will approach playing it on the radio; what I would do is just find a nice excerpt and fade it out after a while. The piece is not very well recorded, but it doesn’t matter. Not to me, anyway.

Liturgy / Oval [coll] – [Thrill Jockey Records]

Max Level   6/14/2011   12-inch, A Library

A limited edition (1000 copies) split that seems sort of an odd pairing.
Liturgy stretches out with a side-long piece that starts with five minutes of a punishing D chord, then moves into more experimental territory with tribal beats and pulsing electronics, then a thrash section with an orchestral feel, ending with a weird chanting thing. It’s pretty awesome and absolutely worth 20 minutes of your time.
On the flipside, Oval (Markus Popp) gives us a loud 6 minute mixture of fractured drums, keyboards, and electronics, followed by three short tracks of about 1 minute each, featuring what sounds like a guitar played percussively in the manner of Fred Frith. I didn’t really connect with the random-sounding Oval material, so for me the Liturgy side is the clear winner.

Paint and Copter – “More Trial, Less Error” – [North Pole Records]

Max Level   6/13/2011   A Library, CD

Portland’s Paint and Copter spin out a slow-burning sort of psychedelia that is just different enough to be different. If you enjoy being enveloped in a warm, inviting fog this 7″ + CD will do the trick nicely. In some places, however, the thick layers of treated guitars, synths, and voices push the music toward an otherworldly, alien sort of vibe, which makes for a nice contrast–for example, the melting voice effect that drops in toward the end of #9 is freaky and great. Mae Starr (Rollerball, Moodring) adds vox and keyboards to a few tracks. Speaking of Rollerball, the band covers Rollerball’s “American Alcoholic” at a slowed-down tempo that I don’t think works as well as the original. Other than that, though, I like what these guys are up to, and I’ve been playing this one a lot. The full-length CD is available only as a download from our friends at North Pole.

Strade Trasparenti [coll] – [Staubgold]

Max Level   6/2/2011   A Library, CD

Soundtrack to a film about a lengthy bus trip through Brazil, on which people encounter other people and watch as the landscape passes. Five tracks here, all by artists familiar to KFJC. Track 1 (28 minutes) is a mammoth thing by The Necks that rises and falls in gentle waves of piano, guitar, and percussion. Track 2 (10 minutes) is a solo electric guitar piece by David Grubbs with lots of empty space in it. Track 3 (12 minutes) by Mira Calix is busy, but on the quiet side, full of percussive patterns and marimba-like sounds. Track 4 (5 minutes) is a rockin’ samba-beat piece by local all-star outfit Mute Socialite featuring Ava Mendoza on guitar. This one sort of jolts us awake, as if the bus had stopped to pick up some unruly new passengers. Track 5 by O-Type, another epic-length piece (23 minutes), develops several different ideas, but it’s anchored throughout by an irresistible beat and it works. The first three tracks evoke the feeling of being on a journey, staring out the window at the scenery, thinking of nothing. A soundtrack to get lost in.

Slug Guts – “Howlin’ Gang” – [Sacred Bones Records]

Max Level   6/2/2011   12-inch, A Library

Lowdown swamp rock from a disreputable crew out of Brisbane, Australia. This effort, supposedly recorded in 24 hours for $300, really delivers the goods: ringing, reverbed-out guitars, a down and dirty rhythm section, and a vocalist with a range of about three notes–they may in fact all be the same note, but who cares? The band members (“four degenerates” according to Sacred Bones publicity) dress in black and always seem to look drunk. The song “Hangin’ in the Pisser” features the refrain: “I just couldn’t say no”, and that tells you everything you need to know about this lot.
I wouldn’t trust these guys with my car keys, but I’d trust them to cause trouble and rock out in a big way. So yeah, play this.

McDonas, Thollem and Stefano Scodanibbio – “On Debussy’s Piano And…” – [Die Schachtel]

Max Level   4/26/2011   A Library, CD

Really, it would be hard to come up with a more stately situation than this: virtuoso pianist McDonas sits at Claude Debussy’s piano, engaging in musical dialogues with virtuoso contrabassist Scodanibbio. According to the liner notes, these are “improvisations based on a scheme Thollem devised specifically for this occasion.” As with many of McDonas’s improvisations, the pieces range from quiet meditations to wild storms of sound. We aren’t told what Thollem’s scheme was, but he was undoubtedly thrilled to have this opportunity to play the Maestro’s piano, and some brilliant musical conversations take place here. A bit of a quibble, though: the recording seems to have been made from a distance, and the large amount of room ambience dilutes the impact of the piano a bit. Perhaps they could have moved the mics just a tad closer? That said, what really stands out here is the excellent musicianship of these two. Overall, a highly satisfying listen.

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