A group which played their first concert in a disused Brussels train station in the early 2000s shows it still knows how to unsettle on Ice In A Hot World. It is only the second album during this time from saxophonist John Butcher, analog synthesizer player Thomas Lehn and guitarist Andy Moor, who ply their trade under the banner Thermal. Recorded live in Avignon just before the pandemic hit, the five spontaneously crafted cuts showcase a particularly egalitarian trio who push at the extremes.
Frequent collaborators, Butcher and Lehn enjoy an almost symbiotic relationship. While their mysterious exchanges can be abstract and unpredictable, they can also summon a fiery intensity. That was demonstrated in exceptional style when they partnered pianist Matthew Shipp on the wonderful Tangle (Fataka, 2016). It also serves them in good stead when hitched with Moor, erstwhile stalwart of Dutch avant punk band The Ex. He takes a more direct approach than many improvisers. His forthright slashes, chimes, detuned twangs and plunks speak the language, but he's always conscious of the power of repetition and noise.
Indeed some of the most involving passages arrive when all three hit the accelerator as they do midway through the opening "Dreams Are Fraying," following a period of droney ambience and mounting tension. Release comes in the overlay of overblown saxophone, abrasive guitar strokes and percussive metallic resonance, until a sudden pressure drop signals one of those instances of everyone realizing job done. From differing starting points, both "Autumn Fireflies" and "Echoes Of A Clucking Tongue" build to similarly jagged peaks. However the most distinctive section comes on the concluding title track, where Moor somehow feeds his voice through his guitar, culminating in a bracing primal incantation. Unsettling territory to be sure for any improv date.
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