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Supersilent featuring John Paul Jones: Manchester, UK, November 16, 2012

David McLean By

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Supersilent featuring John Paul Jones
RNCM
Manchester, UK
November 16, 2012

Of all Supersilent's live collaborators— spanning from guitarist Stian Westerhus to prog/space rock juggernaut Motorpsycho—bassist John Paul Jones is a clear and distinct anomaly. Whereas previous conspirators have worked in similar realms, it was hard to know how the former Led Zeppelin bassist would fit into one of the most challenging and consistently daring improvisational units operating today. Precursory views of live footage on the internet was shunned—anyone with even the remotest knowledge of Supersilent would know that no two performances are ever the same. Intentionally so.

The group's Manchester performance, was on the whole, rather subdued, as if these three sparring partners—guitarist and soundscaping wizard Helge Sten (aka Deathprod) curiously absent, leaving only trumpeter/vocalist/drummer Arve Henriksen and keyboardist Ståle Storløkken to collaborate with Jones—were still in the process of sussing each other out. There were moments when the trio really gelled, the first improvisation climaxing into a spasmodic groove punctured by deep cuts of bass drum and snare hits, with sheets of white-hot noise and stuttering bass fighting to the surface. But more often than not, the set was characterized by a serene kind of searching, recalling the most beatific scenes of 6 (Rune Grammonfon, 2003).

Henriksen's signature trumpet and vocal work—at times, wonderfully combined—guided the group into fourth world vistas. These scenes, when all the players stepped in line with each other, made the sometimes awkward journey to reach these destinations all the more powerful. Storløkken's genius really shined through during these moments; his brilliant sense of pace and emphatic use of melody rendered the group absolutely startling, so completely in command of his own sound and synthesis was he.

Humor was also a component of the performance's most clamorous moment, as Henriksen intoned guitarist Frank Zappa's old adage "Jazz isn't dead, it just smells funny" in a brittle robotic voice, as the rest of the group cart-wheeled around destructive noise and out-rock rhythms. Still, this kind of cliché self-referencing seemed more for the benefit of the bewildered Led Zeppelin fans than the music itself, and detracted from the mysterious atmosphere Supersilent usually projects.

Having experienced more intense and varied shows from the group in the past, this evening's performance might have been seen as a disappointment. The wiry, clanging texture of Jones' 12 string electric bass sometimes intruded in the mood set by Storløkken and Henriksen. There were also directionless moments—the two Norwegians knowingly foraging one another's sound as, more often than not, Jones was left lost in the middle of the woods. Sten's absence was also deeply felt, especially in the more intense sections.

Upon reflection, it was totally wrong to feel any disappointment; having any preconceived notions of what to expect from this group was the culprit and completely wrong to harbor. The joy of improvised music comes from the risks taken—a journey of sound taken along with the audience. Sometimes that journey is grueling and sometimes it is easier, but it is the journey that makes those moments of near telepathic interplay so worthwhile. This evening's performance demonstrated that in spades; Supersilent deserves acknowledgement for continuing to revolutionize contemporary improve, and Jones, too, for taking the risk to enter the fold.

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