On Time Sign
Susanna Lindeborg’s Mwendo Dawa has made one big mess. Depending on how clean a person you are, this could be good or bad. If you like to shove all sorts of timbral colors, rhythms, sonic textures and loose song structures into the closet, then open it and see what floods out, then this record is for you.
"Mwendo Dawa" is Swahili for "the way to a special goal," and Time Sign reaches for an ecstatic expression through the use of jazz improvisation, hard-edged rhythmic drive, and sound sculpting with computer. Pianist and keyboardist Susanna Lindeborg has a multi-tasking pedigree that includes classical training, jazz playing and electroacoustic improvisation. Her wide vocabulary forms the foundation for the broad palette of sounds that Mwendo Dawa uses.
Time Sign rushes headlong for 70 minutes, leaving no space to take a breath, let alone catch it. Drummer David Sundby shows a masterful sense of dynamics on tunes like “Techno 4 four” and “Mixed Series” as he unleashes a barrage of octopus-armed grooves, playing the pulse as if it were a globules free-floating orb that seethes, expands and contracts at will. Matching Sundby’s density is Jimmie Roger Pedersen on bass. On “Short Theme” he snakes around Sundby’s pulses with slippery ease in a melodic high-register and a hyper-charged, insistent funk low end.
Rather than trying to play within the spaces the rhythm section leaves (there aren’t many) Lindeborg and Ove Johansson, on tenor sax and computer, variously float, blare and pour layers of molten sound on top of the rhythmic base. It’s almost as if they have decided that they do not want to reconcile electronics with live instrumentation, and instead have allowed the two to rub, create friction and catch wild-fire. On the thumping “2nd of July,” it is a fire that burns brightly, Sundby and Pedersen locking in with a mutated, monster samba that Lindeborg and Johansson tattoo with short bursts of synth, sax and piano. At other times, like on “Time Sign,” it’s like watching on TV those forest fires that threaten to consume those who have built their homes too close to the forest: you wonder who started it and why. Lindeborg’s noodling synth phrases are so thick and blocky that they deaden and mute the underlying rhythmic thrust.
The album evokes a range of past attempts to merge electronic and improvised forms. Pedersen’s bass moves with Jaco Pastorius’ elastic strength on “Serious Serie,” and the whole piece has the murky depths of early Weather Report. “Free Fall” has the otherworldly drift of Mwandishi, and Lindeborg’s liberal use of the synthesizer’s spacier tones echoes Sun Ra’s more cosmic uses of the instrument. But the best comparison is to the almost primitive snarl and edgy groove of Miles Davis' under-recorded, and under-appreciated, electric quintet from the late '60s with Zawinul, Holland, Shorter and DeJohnette.
Time Sign sounds like the evil twin of '70s fusion, and hints at what that idiom could have been if it had not succumbed to flashy displays of virtuosity: pounding with primal beats, searing melodic fragments and intense interplay, a reckless clash of the acoustic and electric.
Personnel: Susanna Lindeborg: piano, keyboard; Ove Johansson: tenor sax,EWI,computer; Jimmi Roger Pedersen: bass; David Sundby: drums