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Space is the place. Space, not as in Sonny Blount’s dissonant rockets, but space as part of improvisation. The Tone Sharks’ fifth release has plenty of space. The quintet addresses spontaneous composition not as an exercise in who can play the loudest (or longest) but sometimes who can contribute the most in the fewest notes. The Oregon based-band, formed in 1984, is the brainchild of drummer and label chief Dave Storrs. His label Louie Records documents some of the better creative musicians from the US Northwest.
Cave Sleepers, the Sharks previous outing was also an instantaneously composed affair, but it differed in that the band drew inspiration from bebop and rock sources. Changing direction seems an east task for the quintet. Where Cave Sleepers utilized familiar beats as a backdrop for the improvisations, Chunks Of Zen has little or no rhythmic stability, hence the title. I think the quintet saw the Buddha on the road, and killed him by spinning a meditative (musical) Koan.
Storrs, a talented drummer, plays the part of a set designing percussionist, painting moods instead of movement opting for bells over toms. The band plays the acoustical version of post-rave electronic chill music. I keep reminding myself: this is all improvised music. Trombonist Brent Heyne lays out long pastel shades of emotion as guitarist Steve Willis, cloaked often in a Derek Bailey disguise, figures select non-chords. If there is one ribbon that runs through this recording it’s electric bassist Page Hundemer, a former clarinetist, who plays thunderous basslines to maintain a steady throbbing.
The disc is split between two self-described ‘Zen Chunks’ or movements. In between are the tracks “Delayed” the only rocked-out track and “Still Unchanged” a flute/triangle duo played over some noisy bass/guitar fussiness.
The second ‘Zen chunk’ entitled “Two Chunk Zen” opens with the echoed guitar of Willis paired with Tom Bergeron’s Dolphy/Kirk flute. They then move over to Heyne’s trombone matched with Bergeron’s saxophone slowly twirling to Storr’s cymbal dancing. Ending up at a Bladerunner feeling futurist Tom Bergeron chanting a word salad against the darkness of bass rumble and a ghostly impression of The Hilliard Ensemble chants.
Where we were and what we did here is as mysterious as a meditation session you thought lasted 5 minutes but actually was an hour. An excellent recording that I highly recommend.
Track Listing: Chunks Of Zen: Flutter; Call From Down; Ahh; Delayed; Still Unchanged; Two Chunks Of Zen: Echoes Past; Seeking; Tapetum Paradiddledum; Down From Up; Our Numbers Are Dwindling.