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Jim Black may be one of the most respected avant jazz drummers on the planet, but when leading his AlasNoAxis quartet, jazz often seems to be the farthest thing from his mind. Perhaps one need only consider the title of the fifth AlasNoAxis CD, 2009’s Houseplant, to realize there’s probably not a lot of jazz here; the title itself doesn’t exactly suggest swinging exuberance or — given the history of Black’s “jazz” output — even crisp and incisive grooves. After all, when contemplating the nearest houseplant (literal or figurative), do you think of unfettered expressionism, or of something more boxed in, constrained, and maybe even a bit melancholy when contrasted with the wilder things growing outside the window (depending on where you live)? Well, it would be inaccurate to describe Houseplant as stifled music — the nearly epic title track might even be heard as soundtracking the titular foliage’s dream of escape, complete with the walls tumbling down — but at the very least Black, even with his often economical and even understated drumming here, seems intent on exploring how deeply held emotions can be expressed with a minimum of adornment. Guitarist Hilmar Jensson, employing a dirty, gravelly tone, is not the type of axeman who lets his fingers fly up and down the fretboard without his brain fully engaged, and there’s hardly anything that could be considered a “solo” here — he strums a lot of chords (last track “Downstrum” being aptly named), with the undercurrent of a ringing consistent drone almost functioning like a tamboura. In fact, among the quartet members, bassist Skuli Sverrisson might have the busiest fingers of all, during the opening “Inkionos” dancing along with Black on one of the disc’s fastest grooves while Jensson and saxophonist Chris Speed harmonize with long sustained notes across the top.

As for Speed, featured here only on tenor, he takes on the role of indie rock/post-grunge vocalist, mainly playing Black’s melodies and rarely deviating from them. Speed’s quavers and breathy tone sometimes seem designed to convey a rather depressed or at least disengaged emotional state — congruent with Yoshitomo Nara’s cover art — that can nevertheless explode into fireworks without requiring that the saxophonist demonstrate his ability to navigate flurries of notes and scales. And the listener might also rejoice that Speed serves as stand-in for a singer mouthing actual words — not that Black would necessarily be an inept wordsmith, but this fully instrumental music effectively sidesteps the question (and titles like “Cahme,” “Malomice,” and “Naluch” offer few additional hints regarding what Speed might be “singing” about). As a tunesmith, Black is ingenious — he might employ verse-chorus-verse structures and variants, but his use of winding and circular melodies that seem to be eating their own tails keeps the listener, shall we say, “off axis” even if the music might seem simple on the surface. The result is often a building sense of drama even at the middle tempos that dominate here — AlasNoAxis know how to put the power in their ballads. Meanwhile, Black and company throw in stylistic wrinkles that further complicate the picture — Black uses his laptop to produce an Eno-esque ambient backdrop during “Littel”; the deep roaring distortion at the conclusion of “Adbear” could introduce a new genre (death grunge, anyone?); album highlight “Malomice” grooves with a vengeance; and “Cadmium Waits” is, comparatively speaking, downright funky. Meanwhile, one of jazz’s greatest drummers even lets loose now and then, and no one does that better — even if Houseplant isn’t really jazz.

Houseplant, Jim Black
Bekijk in iTunes
  • € 9,99
  • Genres: Jazz, Muziek
  • Releasedatum: 20-02-2009


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