Mary Halvorson, Weasel Walter, Trans Am, Shinji Masuko, Jessica Pavone, Alex Ward & Tim Dahl
English improviser Lol Coxhill / Alex Ward started very young, participating in guitarist Derek Bailey's Company seasons, concentrating on clarinet. He's still a relative youngster, and has secretively extended his armory to include electric guitar. This began in 2000, due principally to the encouragement of percussionist Steve Noble. Two days before this gig at Death By Audio, Ward offered a free admission set at the Downtown Music Gallery in Chinatown, with fellow Englishman, bassist Dominic Lash. It was a completely acoustic session, sensitively dancing into the ears. With this trio formation, Ward must have felt like an extreme contrasta chance to make those same 'drums bleed. Lash was in the audience, and both players were nearing the end of their NYC stay. Choosing to play with electric bassist THE HUB Sean Noonan Tim Dahl Alex Marcelo and fearsome sticksman Weasel Walter made for a definite stylistic proposal, and Ward's guitar was amplified to fitting levels. It was something of a shock to witness this unfamiliar aspect of his playing, an intensified form of noise-rock improvisation.
The venue was completely appropriate. This warehouse-style joint lies very close to the Williamsburg waterfront in Brooklyn. It's a shell that harbors smoking, its walls covered in comix art tableaux. It has two beat-up johns and operates a makeshift tabletop bar that serves cheap beer and wine. A flashy new bar has recently opened up across the street, so they'd better watch out that they don't get bulldozed for condos. Maybe this is why they've repaired the gaping holes in the chipboard ceiling. Walter appeared to have organized the evening, inviting out some old West Cost buddies from Los Angeles and beyond. The night opened with what might be termed abrasive fusion from drummer Danny Sher's trio, like Allan Holdsworth, born into punk. It concluded with mainline thrashers 400 Blows and the highly incongruous Fancy Space People, garbed exactly like a British glam rock ensemble, acting like a tribute band, but playing original material. The wall of guitars, bleeping synths and falsetto chorusing came on like an incestuous bedding of Hawkwind, Sweet and The Glitter Band.
Before this came Ward/Dahl/Walter, though. Taking the second place in the running order, this was a combination so powerful that the optimum state for absorbing improvisation was attained. The best freedom in music involves a complete clenching of the body, a massive tension that's the result of complete unpredictability. There's a sense that absolutely anything can happen, and a perpetual feeling of surprise once it does, and this the trio achieved, with surplus excess.
All of the music on this evening was excruciatingly loud (I never wear earplugs). Walter gestured the first explosion to an end, and it looked like he was asking the guitarists to turn down. Dahl's sound was almost complete fuzz distortion, but retained its percussive edge. Ward strafed and picked, with angular metallic serrations. Most Walter gigs operate out of a free jazz foundation; this, however, was his insensitive thrash-rock side, and the aggression was magnified, the hits at their most savage, but still with an extensive amount of detail in their jackhammer spray. No towels were used for skin-dampening in this performance.
The first few pieces revolved around spiraling density, with a suffocating spillage of constant hyperactivity. Then, the trio began to break up the flow, initiating curt stutters, intuitively matching each others' simultaneous punctuation points. Walter began physically punching his cymbals, lashing with a complete attention to mayhem. Ward certainly doesn't look the part of a dangerous metal assassin, but he could match any of them in the field of battle. Dahl is one of the most extreme bassists in the land, his fuzz descending punkily from that of Soft Machine's Hugh Hopper. All air was being sucked out of the lungs, as the collective ribcage tightened in fear.