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Mendoza / Hoff / Revels: Echolocation

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Mendoza / Hoff / Revels: Echolocation
Among today's leading guitarists fusing the power of rock and avant-garde jazz—a list that has to include Nels Cline, Marc Ribot, Mary Halvorson and Brandon SeabrookAva Mendoza may be the one with the strongest link to the punk tradition. All the evidence one needs is on Echolocation, a project by Revels, her close collaboration with bassist Devin Hoff, on which the pair are joined by saxophonist James Brandon Lewis and drummer Ches Smith. With eight deviously crafted songs expertly navigating the border between free jazz and heavy, kick-down-the-door rock intensity, this is a release guaranteed to grab one's attention, refusing to let go until it has made its point emphatically.

Mendoza has pursued her wandering muse on efforts ranging from William Parker's Mayan Space Station (Aum Fidelity, 2021) to her own avant-rock outfit Unnatural Ways, while Hoff's resume includes stints with everyone from Yoko Ono to Joshua Redman to the Minutemen's Mike Watt, along with his own idiosyncratic folk release from 2021, Voices from the Empty Moor (Kill Rock Stars). Mendoza and Hoff each composed half of Echolocation's eight tracks. Their counterparts' interests are just as wide-ranging, as Smith has long been pan—idiomatic in his own approach, shown most recently on his Interpret it Well (Pyroclastic, 2022), and Lewis continues to surprise with his occasional forays into rock-inflected terrain such as Eye of I (Anti-, 2023), which included the avant-rock trio Messthetics.

The album's title is an inspired choice, evoking that miraculous quality by which creatures from bats to whales are able to communicate and manoeuvre by intuiting the proximity of their neighbors; the musicians here clearly possess that skill, merging their individual impulses seamlessly. In the process they transcend genre, creating something altogether distinctive. The thunderous power chords which announce the opening of "Dyscalculia" are accompanied by Hoff's slithery bass ostinato, Smith's odd-meter funk, and Lewis' alternately lyrical and scalding peals; the music surges with gritty punk fervor but with a free-jazz spirit, especially when the four push beyond the beat and take their improvisation into the outer reaches. Much of the music on the album find its appeal through the tension between its disparate modes; the irresistibility of the groove and melody on "Interwhining" is made even more enticing when it is offset by the moments of freedom which arise toward the end of the track when the musicians are simply barreling forward, heedless of the confinements of meter and structure. "Babel-17," dedicated to science fiction master Samuel Delany, is another example, where a blazingly intense head, again driven by Mendoza's power chords, soon moves into more amorphous realms, as Smith slackens the pulse enough to give Mendoza a chance to indulge in an interstellar surf-guitar exploration, before re-generating the momentum to catalyze a torrid solo from Lewis.

Although its ferocity is fairly relentless, the music does occasionally offer the listener some respite, as on the title track, where Lewis' melodicism comes to the fore as the saxophonist soars his way through Mendoza's captivating tune over a more subdued tempo. And "Ten Forward" begins in a similarly reflective vein as Mendoza's spartan accompaniment undergirds Lewis' plaintive cries, although Hoff's jaggedly distorted bass and Smith's restless rhythmic proclivities soon push Lewis into some of his fiercest blowing, leading Mendoza to follow suit brilliantly. It provides the perfect finish to a rousing album that demands repeated encounters.

Track Listing

Dyscalculia; Echolocation; Interwhining; Babel-17; New Ghosts; Diablada; The Stumble; Ten Forward.

Personnel

Ava Mendoza
guitar
James Brandon Lewis
saxophone, tenor

Album information

Title: Echolocation | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: AUM Fidelity


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