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WA: Cross The Center

Dave Wayne By

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On its surface, Cross The Center may seem like a guitar/drums free jazz freakout. This perplexingly named group from the Pacific Northwest, like their homies Dylan Carlson, SUNN)))000, and The Melvins, proves convincingly that it is possible to freak out with great intelligence, wit and skill. Sure, the electric guitars of Simon Henneman and C. J. Stout are predominantly distorted, detuned, and otherwise abused in order to make those otherworldly sounds. Behind this phalanx of plugged-in madness, Gregg Keplinger thrashes away at his drums in a manner highly reminiscent of Elvin Jones. The sonic possibilities of bicycles were explored by none other than Frank Zappa, during a guest shot on the old Steve Allen Show back in the '60s. It's awfully hard to say exactly what Sean Lane's doing to produce the bicycle- related sounds throughout Cross The Center, but an educated guess would have to include sticks, mallets, contact microphones, and signal processing.

"Funfun" opens the CD with the requisite amount of sound, skronk, and bluster. The result is somewhere between Hound Dog Taylor — there's some sweetly quivery slide guitar going on—and that scorched-earth variety of plugged-in free jazz pioneered by drummer Tony Williams' Lifetime, and later by John Abercrombie on the first Gateway album (ECM, 1975). WA's take on Eden Ahbez's classic, "Nature Boy," is an entirely different matter; this is a beautiful version of the tune. Henneman positively revels in the melody, as the drums and plugged-in percussion rattle and tangle in the background. Stout's accompaniment here is quite delicate, while still being stylistically spot-on.

"Liuzza's" continues along similar lines. Keplinger rolls out an undeniably swinging polyrhythmic backdrop as the guitars and electronics chatter and squeal in the foreground. The lyrical flow of "Adagio and Babel" is undercut by Lane's buzzing, droning electronics—is he bowing the bicycle here?—which subside and ultimately join Henneman in 6-string/32-spoke nirvana. The overall effect is eerie and atmospheric, though the piece fades just as it's entering more turbulent air. "Carcassi" is even sparer. Here, Henneman's bold soloing owes a bit to some of guitarist Terje Rypdal's early ECM recordings, such as What Comes After (1974). The brief, furious coda that ends the piece is nothing short of tantalizing.

As with much improvised music, the success of Cross The Center lies mostly in the highly developed sensitivity and listening ability of its participants, which WA has in spades. Lots of chops on display here as well, though never gratuitously. This is an engrossing CD, beautifully paced, with a variety of textures that meld to into a veritable forest of sonic micro-environments.

Track Listing: Funfun; Nature Boy; Liuzza’s; Adagio and Babel; Carcassi.

Personnel: Gregg Keplinger: drums; Simon Henneman: guitar; C.J. Stout: guitar; Sean Lane: bicycle and electronics.

Title: Cross The Center | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Tables & Chairs

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