When the most striking thing about an album is the packaging, you know you're in trouble. Music, at its best, should draw on a broad palette of colours, rather than being something that is starkly black and white, with nary the slightest shading of grey. Guitarists Jeff Parker and Kevin Drumm team up with percussionist Michael Zerang for Out Trios Volume Two
, an album where the greatest variation in colour, for the most part, is found on the cover of the disc. And that's just not a great place to start.
Free music can be highly evocative. Atavistic's recent Out Trios Volume Three: Ash and Tabula by guitarist Nels Cline, keyboardist/accordionist Andrea Parkins and drummer Tom Rainey amply shows how music doesn't need to be cautious or work with a safety net to be effective in conveying a broad range of emotions. But what makes even the most outrageous spontaneous composition work is the element of communication, the feeling that the musicians are working together. Unfortunately, Parker, Drumm and Zerang, all strong proponents of the avant-garde side of improvised music, fail to create any sense of cohesion, save on the closing track, "Miss Big Meen," an ambient track that successfully creates a sense of tranquility, albeit with a certain element of foreboding.
The rest of the album is truly black and white. While the extended techniques used to draw out highly unusual sounds on the harmonically and rhythmically static "Lacerate" are academically intriguing, they do nothing to touch the soul. It is, in fact, this feeling of detachment and the impression that what we have here are three players doing their best to coax strange and uncommon sounds from their instruments, but nothing morethere seems to be little sense of real purpose herethat makes all but the final track blend into a melange of odd textures with only two real dynamics: loud and soft.
That three musicians with clear capabilities on their instruments would choose to make an album that is mostly concerned with varying degrees of disenfranchised noise is curious. With free improvisation such as this being an extreme sub-genre of an already small niche market, it had better have a good reason to exist if it is to appeal to any kind of audience whatsoever. Sadly, Out Trios Volume Two will likely be of little interest to anyone but graphic designers, who will marvel at the beauty of the packaging concept.
Personnel: Jeff Parker (guitar, Korg MS-20), Kevin Drumm (guitar, effects, synthesizer), Michael Zerang (drums, percussion, autoharp)