Out of all the free improvisation I’ve listened to, there’s a distinct penchant towards tonal belligerence and chaos, which, while very enjoyable (seriously, I can’t get enough of dat saxophone skronk), can also sometimes be stale when you want something a little bit different. Which is why I wrote this article about Ballister, and their latest album, Slag.
One of the most unique and consistent contemporary avant-garde bands, The Necks are perhaps most notable for carving out and perfecting their own meditative niche. On the surface, the Australian group’s roster solicits expectations for a standard jazz trio – Chris Abrahams (piano, organ), Tony Buck (drums, percussion) and Lloyd Swanton (bass) seem to hearken back to the golden age of bare-bones bop and bandleaders like Bill Evans and Thelonious Monk. But these Aussies differ in how far they stretch their jazz roots into the avant-garde, comparable to but far beyond albums like John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and Pharaoh Sander’s Karma. Though there’s a distinctly transcendental, spiritual vibe to The Necks’ music, the trio’s approach to this style is heavily informed by the sparseness of artists like Evans and Monk, with a considerable focus on minimalism, improvisation and ambiance that stretches their musical atmosphere from a smoky, luxurious piano lounge into a general ether of organic landscapes.
Before jazz became a regular occurrence in my rotation, I thought bandleaders were exclusively pianists, trumpeters saxophonists given the prevalence of the instruments in the genre. This quickly changed as I ventured further into the genre, exploring the discographies of artists like bassist Charles Mingus and flutist/clarinetist Eric Dolphy (who, to be fair, also played alto sax). But it wasn’t until hearing Jack DeJohnette’s drum solo on “What I Say” – from Miles Davis’ Live-Evil – that I truly fell in love with jazz drumming, drawing me towards eminent jazz percussionists like Max Roach. To be clear, none of this is meant to frame Eli Keszler as a jazz drummer; his playing and composition on Last Signs of Speed doesn’t fit neatly in any particular style. Yet, as I listened to Keszler’s use of texture throughout the album, it reminded me of the songwriting sensibilities of drummers like Roach – musicians with a deep understanding of percussion’s mechanics and how any additional instrumentation should be placed in the surrounding space.
While it’s unfair to call the “electroacoustic” tag unhelpful, the meaning of it’s name is far more self-explanatory than the works it labels. For those unfamiliar with the genre, the underlying concept is relatively straight forward: electroacoustic music applies any number of digital effects to acoustic (or more accurately, non-electronic) recordings, whether it be instruments, found sounds or field recordings. This method creates a certain detached tangibility – a recognition of the deliberate, musical purpose of sounds which you often times can’t quite link to a specific source. Such an odd bricolage may cause some to question the musicality of these works, but to the contrary, it’s precisely this careful crafting of disparate sounds which established the genre as a unique art form all its own. The process experimental music veteran David Toop used to create Entities Inertias Faint Beings illuminates precisely why this is: