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The Paul Hemmings Trio with saxophonist John Tchicai mixes some styles around on Letter From American, and still comes up with a cohesive set of sounds.
"Under a New Mexico Sky" opens the disc with a sludgy rhythm behind John Tchicai's raw, loud saxophone. It sounds like Led Zeppelin, circa 1969, especially when guitarist Hemmings roars in like an amplified band saw.
Tchicai is normally tagged as an avant-garde guy who played on an early avant blastJohn Coltrane's Ascension (Impulse!, 1965). But here he sounds accessible, if brash and in-your-face.
"Venice Beach Boardwalk" has a surf music, island vibe, Tchicai's fiery saxophone burning in front of the laidback rhythm. "The Battle of New York City" has a rumble in the alley atmosphere, with Tchicai and Hemmings trading roundhouse blows. "A Conversation in Central Park" features chirping bird sounds, reminiscent of Maria Schneider's "Cerulean Skies" on Sky Blue (ArtistShare, 2007).
"Code Red" is a highlight, with Tchicai's horn sounding haunted as it blows around Hemmings' noodling guitar, inserted samples and loops twittering. It's a bleak, foreboding, insistent sound. The effects, here and elsewhere on the CD are deftly done, enhancing the atmosphere.
The rock-informed Letter From America possesses some ragged edges and a visceral feel with some free jazz shadings, making it an excellent from-the-gut outing.
Track Listing: Under a New Mexico Sky; Radio Free America; Venice Beach Boardwalk; The Battle of New York City; A Conversation in Central Park; Lady Dynamite; The Pollack Galaxy; Ous Ous; Code (R)ed; Under a New Mexico Sky (reprise).
Personnel: John Tchicai: tenor saxophone; Adam Issadore: drum kit and percussion; Gaku Takanashi: electric and upright basses; Paul Hemmings: electric guitar, effects, loops, samples.