Australian instrumental trio rediscovers their form on album eight.
Spencer Grady 2012-02-27
By getting back to basics and running on their instincts it would seem as if Australia’s finest threesome have rediscovered just what it is that makes them great. After their last full-length, 2005’s Cinder, saw a more structured approach in the studio with slightly disappointing results this, their eighth album, sees a welcome return to the lengthier improvised explorations that marked their earliest fiery recordings.
The trio’s innate shared language, borne through playing together in a slew of various set-ups over the years, is immediately evident on opener Furnace Skies, a combustible free jazz flurry that, on first listen, would sound more at home on Norway’s Rune Grammofon imprint. This is the noise of old friends kicking back, having a blast. The squeals of feedback from Warren Ellis’ tortured violin that herald That Was Was seem to comprise something of a metallic metaphor; custodial shackles being defiantly flung to the ground.
But Toward the Low Sun is far from being a bludgeoning, self-indulgent sprawl. It’s a work suffused with all the dynamics that made classic Dirty Three albums like Horse Stories and Ocean Songs such pleasurable feasts. Mick Turner’s deliciously understated, impressionistic guitar flickers at the heart of the hesitant Sometimes I Forget You’ve Gone. His deft playing accompanies some doleful piano filigrees and Jim White’s flailing percussion that rides out on muted cymbal shimmer. Ellis shines brightest on the dulcet Moon on the Land, his instrument lending the track its heart-stopping Celtic folk refrain. But maybe best of all is the stately piano-led Ashen Snow, a wispy hymnal propelled by a cascading flute call and thumping kick drum that could have been a slow dance smash for all manner of forest critters.
Ellis, White and Turner have been playing together now for more than 20 years, yet this album sounds so fresh and full of vigour that you would be excused for mistaking it as the rambunctious debut of a cocky troupe of far younger bucks. All it took was for the Dirty Three to revive that special something that’s been there from their very start, proving along the way that timeworn adage about class and form.