Tammen / Harth / Dahlgren / Rosen: Expedition: Live at the Knitting Factory (2006)
This is a big fat disc of free improvisation from a 2001 live show, but don't be fooledthere is method behind the madness. Fortunately, there is also madness behind the method.
It starts out all spiky and aggro. You can tell this because the first track is called "Setting Out With Aggressive Intent," but you can also tell because Alfred 23 Harth tries really hard to bust out your eardrums with shrieking sax figures, and because drummer Jay Rosen goes from subliminal cymbal work to sounding like an orgy of elephants with no warning whatsoever.
Hans Tammen plays an instrument he calls "endangered guitar," which apparently means "a guitar that can be played in many different ways according to whim," and Chris Dahlgren just seems to be hanging on for dear life by playing random bass lines. At this point, your humble reviewer did not want to turn off the CD, although he did kind of want to jump out of a window or get an earectomy. (In a good way.)
But then things slow down a little, which is meet and just considering the title of the second track is "Taken at a Leisurely Pace." The fog seems to roll in, thanks to weird Dahlgren-supplied electronic squiggles creeping in and some cool bell work by Rosen. Harth and Tammen start interweaving their weapons, alternating out-there noises with more soulful lines. One starts to realize that the album title might be more than figurative. One buys in. One braces oneself.
This expedition is not without its bumpy roads, but that is exactly what the group wants. Parts of "Retained Notions of Speed and Purpose" sound like juju space jazz, and parts of it seem to want heads on pikes all around the place. "A Brief Pleasure Trip" is anything but, especially in its speedcore middle section. They are not interested in other people's footprints. They want to make their own.
The journey is not all just craziness; if you fall out, they'll eventually slow down, quiet down, help you back in. Long sections of "A Long Trip by Water" end up sounding like recognizable things (African highlife? Steve Reich? Dizzy Gillespie?), and "A Place That Has Emotional Significance" goes all blues-metal for a while, with some hot-damn work by Tammen. But the possibility of stranger visions is always around the corner.
By the time this thing ends, you know you've been somewhere. You might not recognize it, or understand it, or even like some of it. But it's brave, it's hot, it's freaky, and it is significant.
Track Listing: Setting Out With Aggressive Intent; Taken at a Leisurely Pace; Many Have Passed Rigorous Courses; A Considerable Amount of Time and Distance; Retained Notions of Speed and Purpose; A Brief Pleasure Trip; From One Place to Another; A Long Trip by Water; A Place That Has Emotional Significance; Returning to the Place Where It Began.
Personnel: Hans Tammen: endangered guitar; Alfred 23 Harth: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Chris Dahlgren: bass, electronics; Jay Rosen: drums.