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Hipsters Gone Ballistic

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Album Review

The title of this 2013 release should warn listeners who enjoyed the large-ensemble jazzcraft of the Spinifex Orchestra's 2008 album Triodia that something crazier is afoot. Not that Triodia wouldn't shatter the tender-eared sensibilities of the straight-ahead jazz fan on occasion — amidst that album's colorful ensemble passages, skillful soloing, and panoply of international influences came the occasional cacophonous outburst and even shards of metal guitar — but Hipsters Gone Ballistic is something else again. The Spinifex nonet has been trimmed down to a compact quintet here, all the better to navigate some of the herkiest, jerkiest, most wildly manic avant jazz-metal improv ever to punch its way out of Amsterdam's creative music scene. Spinifex founding members trumpeter Gijs Levelt and alto saxophonist Tobias Klein are joined by electric guitarist Jasper Stadhouders, electric bassist Gonçalo Almeida, and drummer Philipp Moser on a set clearly not designed as background music for a romantic candlelit dinner. They burst out of the gate in an off-kilter 9/8 on the opening title track, Levelt and Klein sticking to a single note each in staccato harmony while Stadhouders, Almeida, and Moser crank through the skewed rhythm with a metal crunch. Bits of wild fragmented soloing and ultra-tight unison stops and starts follow, before Levelt and Stadhouders join together in repeated sharp, swift, upward glissandi.

Then things really get sick, as bassist Almeida breaks out a slide to produce the wooziest, tipsiest sounds you are ever likely to hear. When Levelt and Stadhouders ramp up their own slippery bursts in accompaniment, this music should come with a warning: do not play it while operating a motor vehicle — although Stadhouders' maniacal guitar solo later in the track would tend to focus any driver's attention. Spinifex truly push their craziness to the extreme, as when, after beginning "Flying Object Fort Worth/Umeå/Sheffield" with an Ornette-ish melody over a stuttering beat followed by some scatterbrained improvs, they continuously repeat drum roll-laden unison blasts separated by moments of utter silence until it seems like your listening device has malfunctioned. Things return to "normal" when the instruments slip out of phase into a sort of loose post-minimalism, with much mayhem to follow — ultra-tight riffing; woolly improvs; hand-muted guitar plucks and string-rattled bass with a chunky rock beat. And speaking of Ornette, "V" is a bit like listening to "Lonely Woman" during a demolition derby. But not everything here is completely berserk. The heavy gnashing jazz-metal of "Boo" eventually permutes through spiky noise into a genuine swinger with a fine solo from Klein (before bringing back the metal assault), while, before its own inevitable explosion, most of the ten-minute "Rost" is comparatively subdued, Moser's harmonics-inflected bass even suggesting Hugh Hopper from "Slightly All the Time" on Soft Machine's Third. Meanwhile, as they charge through the Balkan-flavored "Lotigus" and the Carnatic classic "Sre Vallie Devasenapathe," Spinifex put a truly global spin on their customary hyper-energetic hijinks.


Formed: 2006 in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Unpredictable Amsterdam-based creative jazz ensemble Spinifex (named after a genus of Australian coastal grass) began as a feisty little big band in the mold of such Dutch outfits as I Compani, Willem Breuker Kollektief, and ICP Orchestra -- particularly the multifaceted modern composition side of those groups -- with a rocked-up side not unlike that of Belgium's Flat Earth Society. Several years after its initial formation, the group spun off a punchy avant jazz quintet incarnation featuring ridiculously...
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Hipsters Gone Ballistic, Spinifex
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