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CD/LP/Track Review

William Hooker/Roger Miller/Lee Ranaldo: Monsoon (2003)

By Published: January 17, 2004
William Hooker/Roger Miller/Lee Ranaldo: Monsoon You know that you are listening to something very different when the instrument that best creates a harmonic centre is the drum kit. Atavistic inaugurates its Out Trios series with a live recording by guitarist Lee Ranaldo, bassist Roger Miller, and drummer William Hooker that explores the many facets of texture, rhythm and timbre. Monsoon is a take-no-prisoners album of experimental music that will appeal to fans of avant jazz and out rock.

Recorded live at the Knitting Factory in 2002, Monsoon consists of one 49-minute piece, creating an ambience that could best be described as other-worldly. The only thing that gives it any rooting in convention is Hooker, who creates pulsating rhythms over which Ranaldo and Miller blend sounds that range from the quietly ambient to the industrial.

Remarkably, for a completely spontaneous piece of sonic improvisation, the piece does tell a musical story of sorts, as sounds ebb and flow, textures digress and then converge into walls of sound and rhythms shift. Monsoon is as good a title as any, as waves of sound build from nothing into densely-textured crashes.

Ranaldo, better known for his work with Sonic Youth, takes his dissonant playing one step further, creating sounds that are rarely identifiable as guitar. Faced with a more complete freedom, he devises sonic washes that only occasionally evolve into something remotely resembling tonality.

Miller, known as a member of the progressive-meets-avant group Birdsongs of the Mesozoic and the post-punk band Mission of Burma, contributes bass, loops and samples from Fun World Music, where he works primarily in the soundtrack arena. It is often difficult to determine whether the textural sounds emanating from the group are coming from Miller or Ranaldo.

Now nearly sixty, Hooker plays with the same sense of abandon that he has in collaboration with other free jazz artists including Billy Bang, David Murray and David S. Ware; as well as out rock and hip hop artists including Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and DJ Olive. He demonstrates a true listener’s ears, as he responds to the soundscapes surrounding him.

Hardly for the faint-a-heart, Monsoon is nevertheless a daring recording from a daring new series that promotes, as the press release says, “freedom, interaction and sonic architecture... within the context, structure and constraints of the trio format.” Judging from the first release, the trio format offers very little in the way of constraints; this recording blurs all boundaries and, instead, asks you to throw out preconceptions of rhythm and melody, and open your ears to a different set of possibilities.

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Track Listing: Monsoon

Personnel: Lee Ranaldo (guitar, effects, small devices), Roger Miller (bass with electronics and loops, fun world samples via keyboard), William Hooker (drums)

Record Label: Atavistic Worldwide

Style: Modern Jazz

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