Second album from drummer Jim Black and his Alasnoaxis group offer a cool postmodern...
Peter Marsh 2002-11-20
While they're the butt of many a musician's joke, its a fact that many of the best bands in jazz have been led by drummers. What's more, electric jazzers like Tony Williams, Jack deJohnette, Ronald Shannon Jackson and Bobby Previte have all emerged as composers with distinctive and individual voices.
Jim Black isn't about to break that mould with the second album from his Alasnoaxis group. Splay is a more confident, less focussed beast than its predecessor and makes a good defence case for the continuing existence of fusion. Not the technoflash 70.000 notes per minute workouts that you might associate with that blessed union of ye olde jazz with rock 'n' roll, but a curious, attractive exercise in genre blurring that mixes an edgy, punkish rock with blasts of improvised abstraction.
Chris Speed's doleful clarinet or tenor saxophone is the main voice, unravelling sweet, long toned plaintive melodies over the surging pulse of Black's drums and Hilmar Jennson's throaty powerchording, as on the opening "Aloe Evra" or the bright harmonies of "Cheepa vs, Cheep". Most of the pieces are all tune, with no solos to speak of. Instead, subtle rhythmic shifts or eddies of grainy electronics and guitar noise keep the interest up. The exception is the aggravated, episodic "Myndir Now"; where Speed's tenor erupts into baleful, flurried bursts over Black's bubbling free jazz groove.
As with the first album, Black demonstrates his facility for ballad writing too; "You Were Out" unfurls a gorgeous, bruised melody over Jensson's plangent chording, while the equally pretty "Ant Work Song" is gently subverted with chattering electronics till it bursts like an overripe fruit.
While on "Awkwarder"the drummer'scompositional devices seem a bit strained over 6 minutes, the 12 minutes of the closing "Blissed" ironically go nowhere much but with greater effect. A simple series of guitar riffs revolve (but never quite resolve) over motorik drums, eventually joined by Speed's distant clarinet; nothing happens, but it doesn't happen beautifully. Fusion for people who don't like fusion. Recommended.