Peruse the links on Mark Solborg's website and you will begin to understand how the Danish guitarist finally mixes his ideas. Björk, Waits, Frith, Mingus, Bowie, György Ligetiall have gathered into their sound scraps and fragments of different musics. It is to Solborg's credit that his music sounds nothing like any of the above artists. Maybe his graphic arts work gives him balance, and his experience crafting music for plays prevents excess.
On Smash the Tomatoes, Solborg's fifth, surf music bleeds into droning dirges, slide guitar spills into noise antics, an electric bass anchors the drum's manic chugging, baritone sax melts into a massive low-end, and a clainet reaches upper-register trills. The quartet lends the mix an ease with technical facility that never devolves into overwrought displays. Democracy rules, an atmosphere supported by three of the four quartet members' participation in the Danish independent jazz label collective ILK.
The whole album throbs with a loud, visceral rock production, hinting at an energy probably even more palpable live. "Toast" and "Smash the Tomatoes" are rockers, drenched in black-shaded bass rumbles, reminding one of Morphine's languid timbres, but with a snarl like some of Ken Vandermark's heavier moments.
Both pieces hinge on the lock-step core of drummer Stefan Pasborg and bassist Jeppe Skovbakke. Their singlemindedness derives from rock and suggests that free jazz means more than the blaring saxophones and asymmetrical rhythms of the '60s. As Ken Vandermark describes the approach, it is "jazz played today by musicians that are free to take their inspiration from whatever sources they choose."
"Welcome" and "Great Barrier" bookend the album, hinting that Solborg intends the album to be not just a collection of tunes, but an experince. Both pieces center on a delicate, backwards toy piano. The first, only 34 seconds long, transports the listener into the album; the second is one of the tracks that fail, as the quartet reverts to stiff ambient gestures.
The sludgey tempos of "Slow Motion" and "Two Train Sleepers" work better. On the former, Solborg and Skovbakke set up a dense wall of guitar tones and chording bass, against which Anders Banke throws clarinet whorls that ascend to splitting peaks. They repeatedly build the simple theme to tragic climaxes, similar to the cinematic pathos of Godspeed You Black Emperor!
Pasborg provides energetic, precise backbeats throughout, shining on the whiplash heads of "Toast" and the title track. He also brings the right blend of spare and heavy-handed to "Slow Motion." During his solo on Skovbakke's "Don Goppel," he unleashes a taut set of outbursts over the bass's lazy Latin-tinged swing. Unfortunately the piece's overly cute melody sits uneasily with the brashness found elsewhere. Smash the Tomatoes succeeds not with clever writing, but a highly-charged blend of ingredients.