Broken Music is the appropriately titled debut of Fire Room, a collaborative international effort featuring wildly prolific Chicago-based composer and multi-instrumentalist Ken Vandermark. This unconventional trio features Norwegians Paal Nilssen-Love (drums) and Lasse Marhaug (electronics), inceptive members of Vandermark's Powerhouse Sound. Exploring similar territory, Fire Room ventures further into the extremes of brutal cacophony and disquieting stillness.
Where Powerhouse Sound's debut, Oslo / Chicago: Breaks (Atavistic, 2007) focused on primal rhythms swathed in a scrim of invasive electronic textures, Broken Music inverts the equation. A fevered amalgamation of glitchy electronics and frenzied acoustic free jazz, Fire Room brings intensity to even the quietest ruminations.
An internationally renowned collaborator, Vandermark's choice of sidemen speaks volumes about the direction of his cooperative projects. In this setting he limits his arsenal to tenor and baritone, favoring the weighty tone of the big horn. As the sole melodist, he vacillates from blistering scalar runs and exhortative multiphonics to pneumatic linear ostinatos that provide rhythmic underpinning.
A textural improviser, Lasse Marhaug eschews traditional notions of harmonic development and melodic accompaniment in favor of the tangible qualities of pure sound. His palette encompasses myriad EFX. Crackling circuitry, sputtering feedback and oscillating sine waves manifest as an unsettling, unpredictable presence.
A phenomenally gifted percussionist, Paal Nilssen-Love's work ethic is as inexhaustible as Vandermark's. In addition to their numerous collaborations (duo, FME, Territory Band), Nilssen-Love is a member of such esteemed Scandinavian ensembles as Atomic, Scorch Trio, School Days and The Thing.
Relying on their shared history and intuitive rapport, Vandermark, Marhaug and Nilssen-Love provide concise thematic continuity to their volatile free excursions with empathetic listening skills and clear communication.
The title track opens the album with a wall of grating distortion that briefly modulates into an ominous bass line before drifting into abstraction. Vandermark's strident tenor and Nilssen-Love's pummeling drums simultaneously lock into a vigorous brawl, accompanied and instigated by the undulating feedback.
The remainder of the record veers from the spectral pointillism of "Slag" to the intensifying drama of "Hand Lettered," which culminates in a wall of white noise. "Dashboard Fire" erupts with primordial force, while "Line of Lead" undulates with capricious ardor. Drifting between extremes, "When Water Burns Air" trades an opening salvo of spasmodic energy for a subdued coda.
The final cut, "Broken Music 2" showcases the trio's expansive capabilities, building episodically from brooding to bombastic. Ascending from speculative discourse to assertive interplay, Vandermark and Nilssen-Love lock into a roiling duet, accompanied by Marhaug's erratic accents, that explodes with machine gun-like fervor.
Not for the faint of heart, Broken Music is a free-wheeling exploration through the extremes of electro-acoustic improvisation.
Personnel: Ken Vandermark: tenor and baritone saxophones; Lasse Marhaug: electronics; Paal Nilssen-Love: drums.