Rock and jazz make fractious partners. The certainties and simplicities of the one don't always sit easily with the unpredictable trajectories and inventions of the other. Opposites can attract, but they can also repel. Miles Davis pulled the marriage off, at least with his early electric bands, and fellow trumpeter Ian Car contemporaneously created something satisfying in the UK. But the path since then has been strewn with compromise and failureinsipid rock 'n' roll and timid jazz.
The best jazz/rock tends to happen when the raw, defining characteristics of both musics are tipped, unmediated, into the same steaming cauldron and left to fight it out. Step forward Charlie Hunter, Nils Petter Molvaerand Jim Black. Dogs Of Great Indifference, the Seattle-born, Brooklyn-based drummer's fourth disc with his AlasNoAxis quartet, is a near-perfect gumbo. Heavy on backbeats and slash and burn guitar riffs, it's also full of astonishing freewheeling collective improvisation and adventure.
The album is topped and tailed by two relatively laid-back, low-decibel groove tunes, "Oddfelt" and "I Am Seven," each about seven minutes long. At its core, however, are six other pieces of similar or longer length, which progressively crank up the urgency and the extremitiesfrom the loose back-porch backbeat of the title track through the churning, menacing, metal-melting force of "Harmstrong" and "Desemrascar," which morph in and out of pure noise. These tracks are reminiscent of the Velvet Underground circa "Sister Ray," or Glenn Branca at his most untamed.
Tenor saxophonist Chris Speed adds another key dimension. Like Black, guitarist Hilmar Jensson and bassist Skuli Sverrisson, Speed is on-mic most of time (there is very little conventional soloing on the album), and his improvisations are uncompromised, deviant-jazz creationstypically successions of long-held, melodically elliptical, middle and upper register tones, which occasionally splinter into rapid-fire post-Ayler cascades. At his most pastel, as on "Oddfelt," Speed can sound like a modern Charles Lloyd, but most of the time he takes a more abstract and subtly dissonant road. It may seem unlikely, but his sideways approach perfectly complements the frontal assault of his amped-up and stick-wielding colleagues.
The music on Dogs Of Great Indifference was created live in the studio. Black brought in the bare bones of the tunes and the band collectively created skeletal, open-ended arrangements. Once arranged, the tunes were recorded with a minimum of further rehearsal, giving a live edge to the performances. There are no overdubs or post-produced electronic embellishments. AlasNoAxis has been recording without personnel changes since 2000, and rarely are the benefits of a stable lineup so abundantly clear: the band travels down each more or less unmapped new byway with confidence and abandon. Brilliant stuff.
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Personnel: Chris Speed: tenor saxophone; Hilmar Jensson: guitars; Skuli Sverrisson: basses; Jim Black: drums.