Ever press send on an important email only to glance it over and find a glaring typo? That’s roughly how I felt when the name “Colin Webster” popped in my head right after we published our second Jazz Quarterly of the year. For those unaware, Webster is a prolific saxophone madman whose constantly challenging his instrument and ever-widening group of collaborators (for more on Webster, read Bandcamp‘s excellent piece on him, Travis Laplante and other essential modern saxophonists). With Webster’s name in mind, I reluctantly pulled out my phone over my morning cup of coffee and checked his Bandcamp. I knew full well I’d find a new, exceptional album worthy of inclusion in our latest Jazz Quarterly, and sure enough, Molar Wrench fits this description perfectly. The four-track maelstrom pits together sax, percussion and electronics for abrasive free jazz that’s harboring a voyeuristic obsession with noise.
Before parsing through the filth, I should address the question you’re probably asking yourself: “What’s up with the name.” It turns out the long, clunky moniker isn’t a singular title, but rather the name of two European musical collectives who’ve come together for a monster of a collaboration. Let’s break it down real quick–Sly & The Family Drone is an English group using “using only drums and processed cassettes, and incorporating many elements of avant-garde music and sound art,” while Dead Neanderthals offers a “new wave of Dutch heavy jazz.”
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Both groups rival Webster’s extensive discography and prolific roster of collaborators, as well as his voracious hunger for defying the status quo and mixing paint from every possible palette. The groups’ married efforts on Molar Wrench leverage every experimental tool in their arsenals for a twisted, abrasive artistic statement.
Opener “Ghoul Whispers” is a textbook example of free jazz’s fidgeting impatience–Webster and accompanying saxophonist Otto Kokke immediately launch into the album’s woodwind foundation with plodding, low-end bursts bolstering explosive reed tantrums. It’s unclear from the liner notes if drummers Rene Aquarius and Callum Joshua Buckland are playing simultaneously, but the underlying percussion on the track feels like a cavernous display produced by a small ensemble, resulting a powerful foundation for already monstrous saxophone exercises. The madness continues on “Muck Man Part One,” albeit with a slightly slower pace and heightened presence of Matt Cargill‘s effects and sound manipulation. As part two of the mid-section quite kicks in, the pace slows significantly, with Aquarius and/or Buckland building a persistent beat underneath a cacophony of sax that makes the slow churn of the song feel urgent and invigorating.
The title track unfolds in similarly slow fashion, solidifying the sonic narrative of the album struggling for life at its introduction and slowly dying over the course of its run time. Each instrument sounds as though its soul is being sucked dry from deep within, sounding similar to the noisy doom jazz landscapes on GRID‘s excellent self-titled debut from earlier this year. It’s a perfect end to an album rife with intense moments of sonic exploration and wholly uncomfortable with being confined by free jazz’s loose standards. There’s not much more to say about this album other than you should listen to this now and often. You’re guaranteed to find an experimental jazz gem nearly every time you revisit Webster’s Bandcamp, but in this case, the album pays dividends of incredibly rewarding improvisations. Simply put–if you’re a free jazz fan that hasn’t heard Molar Wrench, you’re fucking up.
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