"Oh great sound in the sky, please reveal yourself." Thus begins another stone soul field trip from Massachusetts' Sunburned Hand Of The Man. This is a dish composed of partially digested scraps of Pharoah Sanders' post-Coltrane hippy jams, scream therapy, the barely controlled mayhem of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and the Grateful Dead's Aoxomoxoa. And a sprinkling of alchemist's five-spice for a faint taste of salt & cinnamon, flared nostril immediacy redolent with unforced exoticism.
After a small pile of independently released vinyl-only & CD-R releases, SHOTM is finally seeing key recordings appear on the more widely available CD format, and like the recent and equally excellent Rare Wood , this Trickle Down Theory , recorded "at the top of a rickety red staircase on June 20, 2002," has the vibe of an old fashioned Happening. Close your eyes and you can see the dusty, half naked dancers flailing artfully, surrounded by drummers and animal masked shaman. Yet this green sprouting thing is no throwback, no patchouli-saturated relic. Sunburned Hand is at the deliciously ragged edge of contemporary improvisation.
The weirdly calming "Always Correct" suggests an astral plane crash between Tibetan monks and Tuvan throat singers, a glottal rumble refereed by Lee Scratch Perry. Last track "Rivershine" could easily be a refugee from Can's Ege Bamyasi , the audible and the hinted at swimming under a blinding sun, a cry for help or an ecstatic outburst depending on who's listening. "Show of Hands" wheezes out like the cold wind from the Grimm Brothers' black woods, David Lynch's damp fairy tale atmosphere crowbarred into sound & texture, a thousand battery-operated noisemakers being melted down in a 21st Century ghost dance. Their densely knotted percussion recalls Africa's Francis Bebey and the root stuff, base level power of the drum interwoven with guitars, bush babies & silver bells.
Improv is frequently a smarty pants intellectual "exercise," touted as more "art" than composed work. Sunburned Hand refuses such creative classicism, letting the music speak for itself, refusing most commentary or even direct attribution for individual instrumentalists. At any given moment a dozen or more people are engaged in realizing their muse. This is not the intimacy of a duo or a trio like AMM or even the Art Ensemble's quintet. By refusing traditional improv's cerebral bias, by allowing some spirit, some ethereal force into their process, they are expanding the very definition of improvisation and in the process a new, gnostically sensual music is being born.