Jim Black/Alasnoaxis: Habyor (2004)
Drummer Jim Black reconvenes his Alasnoaxis band for its third outing on the Winter & Winter label, this time delving even further into song form than on the first two releases. More than a little influenced by alt rock bands, there are still tastes of progressive and art rock in the mix, but the emphasis is definitely on rock. Fans of more traditional jazz will, no doubt, shy away from Habyor , but more adventurous listeners who don't mind examining the spaces between genres will be satisfied by this, another strong recording by the outfit.
The emphasis on song means that the thrust is on arrangement, and what improvisation there is gets kept to a minimum, over strict form. But loose improvisation is not what this group is about. Black seems content to drive the groove with a relaxed yet powerful approach. Guitarist Hilmar Jensson, while still retaining some of his David Torn and Robert Fripp influences, is less processed than either and is content to work as a rhythm section player, never actually soloing. Bassist Skuli Sverrisson anchors the session with Black, at times taking a dominant role in defining the melody. But the main source of melody and solos is reed player Chris Speed, who is strong yet restrained.
The whole point of Alasnoaxis is less about broader technical displays and more about direct service to the song. On these ten relatively short compositions these players manage to navigate odd time signatures and a diversity of feels and textures that lean heavily towards the kinetic. This is music that demands attention and is best played loud. Think guitarist Nels Cline's Singers with more emphasis on simple composition and improvisation that is more closely rooted to form. But there are some moments of collective improvisation, such as at the end of "Hello Kombiant," which breaks down into pure chaos, and "Let It Down," where Speed opens up and blows hard and heavy.
Black has long been an in-demand player with some of the best of the New York improvising scene, including Tim Berne, Dave Douglas and Ellery Eskelin, but it is only with the advent of Alasnoaxis that his personal tastes and predilection for more tune-oriented material have become known. Habyor may not make fans of purist jazz fans, but with singable melodies over mostly assertive rhythms, he creates engaging music that may draw more rock-oriented listeners over to the "dark side."
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Track Listing: Talk About; Z; Rade; Cha; Part Wolf; Hello Kombiant; Let It Down; Be Real; Endgatherers; Stay Go
Personnel: Chris Speed (tenor sax, clarinet, wurlitzer piano, accordion, casiotone), Hilmar Jensson (guitars), Skuli Sverrisson (bass), Jim Black (drums, wurlitzer piano, melodica, handsonic)