Mockūno NuClear: Drop It (2012)
In its enterprising catalogue of modern day masters and loft jazz rarities, the Lithuanian No Business imprint also documents local musicians. Chief among them is one of the country's premier improvisers, saxophonist Liudas Mockūnas. Previous appearances on the label have placed him in a Peter Brotzmann-like trio on Live at 11:20 (2010) and in an impromptu freewheeling duet with Japanese pianist Ryoji Hojito on Vacation Music (2011). On Drop It by the self-referential Mockūno NuClear, Mockunas corrals a changing cast of compatriots for a program drawn from live and studio sessions over a three year period.
Stylistically and temporally diverse, the set ranges from a classical interpretation to freely improvised expressionism, via rocky fusion and jazzier interplay. Mockūnas' approach recalls Swedish reedman Mats Gustafsson not only in his wide-ranging ambit, but also in his juxtaposition of foghorn blast overblowing (especially on baritone saxophone) and mewling whimpers, while on soprano, he favors a piercing, nasal vibrato. Of the core trio, pianist Dmitrij Golovanov covers a broad repertoire similar to the leader (though he is best served by the acoustic instrument rather than the electronic keyboards which rob him of character), while drummer Marijus Aleksa co-opts insistent patterns to demarcate a choppy pulse.
In a way, the diversity obscures as much as it elucidates, making it hard to get a fix on the band's intent. On "Prelude," Mockūnas traces an arc of increasing intensity around a Bach-like piano study by 19th century Lithuanian composer Mikalotus Konstantinas Čiurlionis until conjoining with Golovanov in a meditative confluence of tenor saxophone and piano. Two variations follow: the first is a duet of fluttering baritone and responsively tumbling drums; the second has the reedman alone, blowing up a storm on the larger horn before culminating in a craggy exposition of the piece's reiterated cadences on soprano and baritone simultaneously.
The remainder of the album is similarly diffuse. "The Dark Side/The Bright Side" starts in a swirl of buzzing, Morse code electronic keyboards and braying baritone before segueing into earthy repetitions with a fusion flavor. On the driving title track, the baritone begins an ostinato which the electric piano then keeps aloft, latterly with an uncoiling soprano excursion. Mockūnas again wields the straight horn to good effect on "Elephant Tango" galloping over a rhythmic form with nothing of the pachyderm about it. Everyone shows their chops on the tricky "How To Earn Money," one of the high points.
Track Listing: Prelude; Prelude Variation 1; The Cursed (Prelude Variation 2); The Dark Side / The Bright Side (The Bright Side is Dedicated to Andrew Hill); How To Earn Money; Elephant Tango; D rop It; Take It.
Personnel: Liudas Mockunas: soprano, tenor and baritone saxophones; Dmitrij Golovanov: piano and keyboards; Marijus Aleksa: drums; Vytis Nivinskas: bass (5, 6); Darius Rudis: drums (7).