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Totem>: Solar Forge (2008)

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Totem>: Solar Forge How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

There is an observation, which seconds as an insider joke, about free jazz and the loft scene in the sixties: "There is no such thing as a bad session. Why? Because you cannot tell...." The implication here is, given that jazz is what the players say it is and that if there are no principles on which the listener can hang his ears and mind, then there is no way to judge whether it is good or bad. However, aesthetically, it is quite possible for something to be good, even great art, and for the observer not to like it.

Solar Forge, however, is great art, precisely because there are rules to aesthetics and TOTEM> adheres to them, with the result being aural coherence within the context of the unplanned. Liking or disliking is beside the point, but there is no getting around the fact that this music exists in "open ears" territory, and will be challenging for those with preconceptions about what music, jazz or not, should be.

That said, this music is an incredible listening experience. From moment to moment, the directed purpose of guitarist Bruce Eisenbeil, bassist Tom Blancarte and drummer Andrew Drury, as both individuals and group members, can be heard and followed— the trio consciously produces each piece's distinct sound—short and long term. Thus, the first principle of art, that of purposeful, directed control, is audible; that this is happening in real time and is perpetually changing and mutating is what part of what makes it challenging.

The other part is the sounds themselves. While the instruments played are conventional, their use is anything but. This is most obvious with Eisenbeil's guitar and Blancarte's bass. The tour de force that is Inner Constellation Volume 1 (Nemu, 2007), showed Eisenbeil's mastery and extension of physical and electronic guitar technique, and he is even more amazing here.

Blancarte produces an enormous range of sounds, many of which mix with Eisenbeil's low end, ranging from scrapings, bowings, pluckings, and harmonic squeals—anything but the conventional. As he and Eisenbeil fit hand in glove, Drury adds his layer of dry, conventional, but arrhythmic drumming, cymbals scrapes, and many other sounds. That this complex sound mass is produced in real time must be heard to be believed.

The Hephaestus in the third track, "Hephaestus' Wrath," is the Greek equivalent of the more commonly known Vulcan. All of the associations that arise from this myth, including heat, boiling cauldrons, volcanoes, flowing metal, and controlled chaos have a place in the emotional space within which this music exists.

In the end, art, and particularly music, is about emotional communication. Solar Forge scalds and sears with a white hot intensity, making it great music, regardless of genre.

Track Listing: Blooming Ore; Austenized; Hephaestus' Wrath; Annealed.

Personnel: Bruce Eisenbeil: guitar; Tom Blancarte: upright bass; Andrew Drury: drums.

Record Label: ESP Disk

Style: Free Improv/Avant-Garde


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