There's often considerable difference between live and studio recording, where the facility's greater capacity for control and manipulation can almost become an additional band member. Still, for some the difference is a subtle one. In the case of KTUa collective that began with half of King Crimson (Warr guitarist Trey Gunn and traps/button man Pat Mastelotto) working together as TU, accordionist Kimo Pohjonen and sampler Samuli Kosminen (both Finns)there's a world of a difference. The group's debut, 8 Armed Monkey
(Thirsty Ear, 2005), was an avant-edged live affair, as it moved through five collective improvisations that skirted the edges of progressive rock, electronica, world music, and a hint of ambient.
Many of the same characteristics imbue Quiver, but with time to shape its five collective and six individually composed pieces, KTU has moved forward with an album that's significantly more focused. Because of Quiver's greater emphasis on structure, and KTU's reduction to a trio (Kosminen is listed only as a guest), the group has assumed a clearer identity. The collective compositions are compositions, with "Kataklasm" leaning towards the harsher extremes of latter-day King Crimson, though Pohjonen's accordion, truly one of the most outright beautiful textures to grace a progressive-minded rock outfit, creates a wonderful contrast with Gunn's overdriven touch guitar and Mastelotto's thundering kit work.
One criticism levied against Mastelotto's work with Crimson, despite it being of questionable veracity, is that he sometime sacrificed the potential power of acoustic drums for the plethora of samples at his disposal. No worries here: Mastelotto may still be a master of sampled sounds and programmed beats, but his acoustic playing is well-balanced and appropriately used, even when it's mixed with the electronics in ways that extend some of one-time Crimson band mate Bill Bruford
's innovations into areas the recently retired drummer might never have conceived.
As with 8 Armed Monkey, beyond the clear sound of the accordion, the unmistakable sound of electronic and acoustic percussion, and Gunn's twin-brained bass/guitar work on his touch guitar, it's often difficult to know who is playing what, but then again does it really matter? Gunn's "Fragile Sun" is a miniature soundscape of unrelenting beauty; "Nano" moves along with singable (and sung, courtesy of Pohjonen) melodies; and the title track is an appealing combination of accordion arpeggiations, jagged guitaristic lines, and a tumultuous but still backbeat-driven pulse that somehow feels Finnish without any discernable reason. The static "Womb" features some of Pohjonen's most lyrical work of the set, despite odd colors thrown into the mix, while the accordionist's "Wasabi Fields" feels like the expansive soundtrack to an imagined film.
Quiver represents greater growth towards a specific identity for a group that skirts the edges of many styles without settling on any of them for long. Its greater emphasis on construction also makes it a far more engaging listen, and points to even greater promise for a group that's already delivered plenty, making it one of the best, albeit completely uncategorizable, releases of 2009.
Personnel: Trey Gunn: Warr guitar; Kimmo Pohjonen: accordion, voice; Pat Mastelotto: rhythmic devices, beats and noises; Samuli Kosminen: additional beats and noises, Kosminization.