Revolution is in the air, and Rusconi knows it. The Swiss trio's fifth album sees it break with major record labels following its memorable tribute to indie-rock band Sonic Youth on It's a Sonic Life
(Sony, 2010)and head out into the great unknown of self-promotion. It's a bold move, but one befitting of the sonic explorers its three members truly are. Following the likes of Radiohead and trumpeter Cuong Vu
, the trio's music is available on a pay-what-you-feel-its-worth basis, and the aim is to build a fan base that recognizes the serious need to support independently-minded, creative spirits in order to be able to hear their music at all. Revolution
sounds refreshingly original and covers broad musical terrain that eases from jazz and art-pop/rock to experimental noise, and more besides. In essence, however, the music is groove-based and highly melodicserious but fun. This border-less approach is well illustrated in "Templehof," a stadium anthem with a Bach-inspired soul; pianist Stefan Rusconi's highly infectious piano-and-whistling motif, supported by team-clapping, makes way for Fabian Gisler
's bouncing bass solo, which swings like Ray Brown
. Returning to the head, the song stops with all the suddenness of an encounter with a brick wall.
This mixture of pop sensibility-cum-rock energy, improvisational freedom and a heightened sense of drama is central to Rusconi's approach, and gets 50,000 South Koreans up and partying
as easily as it does several hundred in a club venue. A faintly nostalgic, Duke Ellington
piano turn bookends "Milk," a short piece where a tireless bass ostinato acts like a rudder. Sustained wordless vocals accompany Rusconi's gently meandering piano solo, which contains surprising power given his minimal flourishes. "Berlin Blues" shares similar characteristics, though it burns with greater intensity. The trio spins on a dime repeatedly, emerging in new sonic terrain, as Gisler's scratchy arco provides yet another surprising ending.
The most experimental track, the raw yet beautiful "Alice in The Sky," stems from a repeating, damped-string piano motif, and features the guitar wizardry of Fred Frith
. Frith's crying lines grow in intensity, and distortion and loops are underpinned by a deep, quasi-devotional vocal drone and subtle Balinese temple bell effects. Drummer Claudio Strüby's presence increases gradually, with cymbals and pattering brush patterns raging quietly. It's an absorbing exercise in wedding sound textures, and typical of Rusconi's embrace of music's infinite possibilities, following collaborations with Swiss visual artist Pipilotti Rist
, experimental Chinese jazz singer Coco Zhao
, German arts/fashion photographer Diana Scheunemann
, and video/film collective Zweihundfilm
who conceived the wonderfully sympathetic video for Rusconi's composition from 2008, "One Up Down Left Right."
The pop-rock "Massage the History Again" shares the melodic strength and epic surge of Radiohead at its best, and is imbued with lyricism, notably in Gisler's unaccompanied bass solo. "Kaonashi" is a short, driving number, little more than a melody bolstered by rhythmic support and framed at either end by pools of quiet abstraction. "False Awakening" is an unusual vignette; percussion clatters like cutlery fighting, over a melancholic, film-score piano motif and amplified arco. A raucous live version of Sonic Youth's "Hits of Sunshine"driven by a "Love Supreme"-type bass ostinatodemonstrates Rusconi's penchant for building from simple melodic and rhythmic foundations to heady, ecstatic heights; jazz, art-rock and psychedelia in a smoldering threesome. Powerful, adventurous and essential popular
Tempelhof; Milk; Alice in the Sky; Berlin Blues; Massage the History Again; Kaonashi; False Awakening; Hits of Sunshine (live in Bielefeld).
Stefan Rusconi: piano, space echo, sound preparations, backing vocals; Fabian Gisler: bass, distortion & feedback, backing vocals; Claudio Strüby: drums, tapes, backing vocals.