The fourth Winter & Winter studio release by Jim Black's longstanding AlasNoAxis group is, like its predecessors, remarkably consistent in delivery. The progressions the group makes at times are so subtle from one album to the next that the different recordings can seem interchangeable. But AlasNoAxis soldiers on as part of a brave new tradition, blending the contemporary sounds of indie rock and electronica with jazz improvisation into an organic and satisfying brew.
Black gained initial exposure in the early 1990s with the impressive Human Feel quartet, which featured Kurt Rosewinkel, Andrew D'Angelo and Chris Speed. All the founding members have since gone on to greater acclaim. Since disbanding, Chris Speed and Jim Black have remained core members of each other's groups; Speed's Yeah No most closely mirrors Black's own ensemble.
AlasNoAxis integrates current rock and electronica rhythms, bittersweet pop melodies, lush harmonies and open structures into an impressively seamless fusion. By modulating stock rhythms and altering conventional chord progressions with just a pinch of advanced jazz theory, the players elevate run of the mill structures into multi-layered, careening anthems that are both strident and reflective. Never pedestrian or dilettantish, Black knows the independent underground scene well enough to make crossover music that matters.
Black locks into propulsive, chunky rock groves, but with an ever so slight twist, just enough to keep the rhythm changes and meters fresh. Chris Speed eschews furious linearity and endless sheets of sound for soaring, plangent tenor sax lines which accent the highly melodic nature of the pieces. Dissonant, split-tone texture is used in place of rapid fervency when that kind of energy is required.
Guitarist Hilmar Jensson weaves gauzy, ECM-ish sheets of atmospheric sound during ethereal moments, but he can dirty it up like any Brooklyn-bound son, spraying waves of thick distortion and dropping fuzzy augmented power chords when the time is right. Skúli Sverrisson's bright-toned electric bass is the rhythmic and melodic fulcrum around which the ensemble gravitates, and his precise timing is the beacon that keeps them earthbound.
Black's group does not veer far from its previous sound or conceptual outlook on this release, but for those already swooning over the future of electro-acoustic improvisation, Dogs of Great Indifference is as good as contemporary "fusion" gets.
Oddfelt; Dogs of Great Indifference; Tars and Varnish; Spins So Free; Star Rubbed; Harmstrong; Everybody Says the Same; You Know Just Because; Desemrascar; Harmsoft; I Am Seven.
Jim Black: drums; Chris Speed: tenor sax; Hilmar Jensson: guitars; Sk
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