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Iluso Records: DIY from two dreamers


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Australian drummer Michael Caratti and Spanish-born New York-based guitarist Álvaro Domene founded the record label Iluso in 2013 to release their quartet recording Gran Masa. The pair found they shared similar interests while in school at Middlesex University in London. And why not put out their own music? That way they could control the content and retain all the rights. Additionally, with the decline of brick-and-mortar record shops and the increase in internet digital downloads, there are very few reasons to not start a label. Especially if you are engaged in the business of avant-garde jazz, creative music, free improvisation, avant-metal, and new music/contemporary classical. While their label has released their individual projects, they have also featured music by artists such as Lotte Anker, Pat Thomas, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, Ståle Liavik Solberg, John Butcher, Josh Sinton, Jason Ajemian, Chad Taylor, Rachel Musson, Steve Beresford, Devin Gray, Dominic Lash, and Alex Ward.

Below is a look at a few of their offerings, which are available as downloads or in CD format at their website or Bandcamp.

Synaptic Self

If you are of the opinion that the best way to save jazz is to raze it, then the demolition team of dMu is just the ticket. Just as DIY punk saved rock music in the 1970s and 80s (only to see it back on life support in the 21st century), the trio of saxophonist Josh Sinton, guitarist Álvaro Domene, and drummer Mike Caratti has an appetite for destruction. Their power trio, named after a Tibetan mythological demon, purposefully conjures a feverish tumult throughout the six tracks, all composed by Caratti. Opening with the stuttering "Onda," the trio plunges towards an organized chaos of overblown baritone sax, rip/torn guitar notes and monster beats. Sinton and Domene charge, often in lockstep, into the void.

The closest comparison here might be to The Thing, when Ingebrigt Håker Flaten swaps acoustic for electric bass. dMu shares the same avant/garage/punk/jazz attitude. Like the DIY punk revolution, it is vitriol (and venom) that powers this music. With a dynamo like Sinton and the shred-ready nimbleness of Domene, we are given a tinderbox, one that finds its accelerant in Caratti's pulse. The music, though, is distinct from punk in that these are first rate musicians negotiating some tricky compositions. The intricacies and twists of "Lake Disappointment" and "Dropsy" are jaw-dropping, amazing. Don't let the sweat stained exhaustion of a listening session with dMu deceive you, it's just the Tibetan sorcery working.

Álvaro Domene
The Compass

Things start out easily enough with "Temor V" on guitarist Álvaro Domene's solo recording. Dreamy notes wash over a shoreline that could go on indefinitely. But there is an ominous tone hovering above the music. Domene controls the weather through heavy chords and sustain. Thunder rumbles and...well, is resolved with the most refrain. You know he is just playing with you. These ten tracks, half improvised/half composed, draw inspiration from ambient soundscapes and heavy metal explorations. The guitarist is a connoisseur of both noise and extended technique, kind of like Robert Fripp-meets-Merzbow. In an interview with guitar Moderne he explained the set up of his seven-string Strandberg guitar that includes: Zvex Fuzz Factory, Xotic SP Compressor, EHX Micropog, HD Precision Drive, Weehbo Bastard, Volume Pedal, Hexe Revolver, Red Panda Tensor, Strymon Timeline, Neunaber Wet, and EHX 720 Looper. All of these fed (?) into a Peavey 5150 EVH (original block letter) through a 4×12 Boogie cabinet, a 70s Fender Twin Reverb, and a 70s Ampeg SVT bass amp, through a 4×10. All of which he cranks up to 11.

That said, we understand Domene's process to be detailed and attentive. He slags heavy drones, mixing them à la Sunn O))) with dark metal ambience that skirts the fringes of rock, noise, free improvisation, and nightmare. If it weren't for the extraordinary control, terror might ensue. "Fermi Paradox" takes its initial cues from the stylings of Derek Bailey's fingerings before inflating into the worlds of Sonny Sharrock and the Melvins. But wait, there's more. Domene can hypnotize you with his seventh string, a bass-line that sets up the mesmeric piece "Pendulum," which swings between deftly plucked notes.

Eli Wallace
Slideshow Junky

Eli Wallace may be a name new to listeners, but it is one to tuck into your memory bank. The pianist and composer moved to Brooklyn in 2015 from Oakland (that's it, jazz is way too New York-centric) and has been creating a bit of a stir. With Slideshow Junky he presents two different trios, guitarist Aaron Quinn and drummer Jason Nazary or bassist Brandon Lopez and drummer Devin Gray playing a selection of his 30 one-page compositions. Inspired by cut-up techniques once used by William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, he creates oddly metered and unconventional structures for these mostly brief pieces. Music sometimes lurches forth, as in the opener "Ursula," with wild-eyed abandon only to be reshaped into echoey reflections. Wallace approaches his piano (acoustic and electric) with a percussive attack. Much of this recording is built upon his interplay with either drummer. "Bullets II" is a pulse-dependent composition created as a backdrop for Quinn's guitar explorations. Much here is cloaked in freedom but, in actuality, is reliant on Wallace's assemblages. His keyboard approach draws from Cecil Taylor and Sun Ra, and his ideas scratch an itch of jazz, modern music, improvisation, avant-rock, and John Zorn's file-card compositions.

Low My Guy
Failure To Thrive

Clocking in at just 30 minutes, Failure To Thrive by the Australian avant noise band Low My Guy tests one's endurance. We're not talking tolerance here, nor sufferance. More like stamina, and maybe better described by the Latin defatigabilis—completely + worn out.

The trio of guitarist Andrew Bassett, bassist Don K Long, and drummer Mike Caratti bring the noise, one that will be familiar to fans of Blind Idiot God, Dub Trio, and Ground Zero. This is an in-your-face seven track sprint from beginning to end. Iluso label chief Caratti (imagine the Incredible Hulk) keeps a thunderous groove on the drums throughout, favoring a monstrous sound. The trio favors distorted guitars and chest pounding bass. The shredding of "Abuse Of Process Pt I" only relents after its 1:36 ends. Same for the 1:53 of the aptly titled "Shit Kicker." The mosh is appropriate here. When the dust settles, we are left with maybe the most interesting composition "Goon Bag Blues," an orchestrated lurch at darkness or is it a treatise on enlightenment?

Mike Caratti / Rachael Musson / Steve Beresford
Hesitantly Pleasant

Yes, that's Mike Caratti, the same drummer playing free improvisational music here and with the metal avant/noise bands Low My Guy and Death Drag. The Australian-born/UK educated musician recorded this live date in January 2017 at The Vortex in London with British legend Steve Beresford and soon-to-be superstar Rachel Musson. Just when you think he is going to zig, he zags.

The signature of a true British free improvisation session is the unique timing of each musical gesture. Adjectives like suitable, pertinent, and befitting come to mind. Beresford's expression is just that, and always tasteful. He has been a choice partner for more than forty years with musicians like Derek Bailey, Lol Coxhill, Han Bennink, and Evan Parker. Musson has been on our radar for less than a decade, but has led her own ensembles and worked with the London Improvisers Orchestra, Alex Ward's Quintet and Sextet, John Edwards, and Mark Sanders.

The instant compositions heard here fluctuate from a very busy "Complex Footwork And Violent Movement," with pounding piano set against Musson's upper register attack and rattle-tick of Caratti's explorations, to the hushed ballad "A Unique Haircut." Maybe it is because there is more consideration paid or the musicians are just listening to each other more here that the instant composing is at a premium.

Death Drag

You might be tempted to invoke a blender analogy when I describe the quartet Death Drag's release Shifted as contemporary classical, thrash metal, free jazz, and noise. But that wouldn't do justice to the vision of drummer Mike Caratti. You see, he has composed, not by liquefying, chopping, or pureeing, but by a clear vision for this music. Like the avant-garde insurgents (let's not call them terrorists) John Zorn, Anthony Braxton, and Rob Mazurek, Caratti works in a thoughtful, solicitous manner. It's just that parts of this recording involve strafe and blitz.

Opening with Luke Barlow's pacific organ, Roberto Sassi's woolgathering guitar, and a slight rumble of Roberto Horro's bass, the nearly 12 minutes of "Golden Root Complex" spark like an update on a Vincent Price horror movie soundtrack delivered by an electric Miles Davis band circa 1971. The composition is a harbinger of the thrashing sounds to come. "Uncredited Corpse" downs a dozen cups of espresso with its frenzied drumming and accelerated guitar and throbbing bass line. Caratti's vision of post-thrash metal eschews chaos (for the most part) delivering through composed compositions and heavy, heavy sounds. The final piece, "Virgin Gutter," lifts off like a jet fighter weaving heavy metal Napalm Death with spooky Sun Ra keyboards. Yeah, it's that non compos mentis.

Álvaro Domene & Briggan Krauss
Live At The Firehouse Space

This live document was recorded in Brooklyn, 2016, and features two very distinctive voices. Spanish-born guitarist Álvaro Domene and American saxophonist Briggan Krauss. The guitarist, new to the New York scene, paired up with a veteran of the Uptown/Downtown wars. Krauss' work, beside his recordings, includes Wayne Horvitz' Pigpen and Zony Mash, Bakas, Jerry Granelli, Steven Bernstein's Sexmob, and Satoko Fujii's Orchestra New York.

The meat of this recording is the 40-minute opener which sneaks in on little Carl Sandberg cat paws. Krauss has quietly overblown alto saxophone notes and Domene maintains the same confidentiality. The pair suggest we relax and ready ourselves for the journey. This is patient music making. The saxophonist exploits the edges of his horn bending notes and pitches like, well, like Domene does, with his guitar foot pedals. As you might expect, the energy ramps up, building to a thunderous crescendo, then a busy solo rat-tat-tat by Krauss. Domene accents swirls and fills behind the saxophone, creating a dreamscape before laying down his own blanket of notes both beautiful and, at times, machinelike harsh. This is a co-exploration of sound, a true partnership of determination.

His Flight's At Ten

The classic marketing campaign for Reese's Peanut Butter Cups might be the best way to describe the live concert recording by the quartet of saxophonist Lotte Anker, pianist Pat Thomas, bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, and drummer Ståle Liavik Solberg. Candy lovers, like free jazz listeners, may prefer the chocolate or stentorian sounds while others dig the peanut butter or hushed improvisation. At the 2016 Blow Out festival in Oslo listeners got chocolate in their peanut butter and peanut butter in their music.

The quartet made two great tastes, taste great together. This group draws together Anker, a Danish saxophonist with England's Thomas and the Norwegians, Flaten and Solberg. It really doesn't matter if you prefer the intimacy of interplay or the dissonance of energy music, both are present here and they both tend to fit hand-in-glove with this line up. Opening with off-kilter piano and uninhibited chunks of drumming, "Departure" stumbles, inebriated, with honks and slap bass. It is as if the quartet is looking for a foothold to enable a launch. They don't so much take off as they settle into a comfortable stride. That is, until any of the four decides to push the pace and dial up the energy.

The same can be said for the remaining tracks "In Flight" and "Arrival," except the agenda is reversed, with the quartet ramping up the intensity as the music grows. This is fearless music making at its best.

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