One of the joys of completely improvised music is the urgency and utter possibility lurking in each phrase. These provocative new releases, the first two on guitarist Terrence McManus' Flattened Planet label, restlessly push the improvisational envelope, daringly risking everything in the pursuit of fresh sonic vistas and heightened states of group cohesion.
Bates/Linz/McManus, a trio effort joining drummer J.T Bates, bassist Adam Linz and McManus, begins with a persistent bass motif that Linz doggedly sticks to as Bates enters with off-kilter drum beats and McManus strums dissonant extrapolations. Unified by a common melodic theme, the players nonetheless maintain three distinctly different approaches, occasionally coming together in brief harmony before restlessly setting off on disparate paths.
A collection of trios, duets and solos, the album is a mixture of unique improvisations, ranging from the stuttering trio groove of "x(fin) to the desolate, distorted soundscape that is "Cataclysm . McManus' skills as a guitarist and knack for experimentation are apparent throughout, most strikingly on "Arepticious , a piece that features his distorted guitar amid patched electronic samples and the kind of stuttering interference that results from holding a cell phone up to an amplifier.
This kind of freewheeling, minimalist improvisational style is a potent mix of jazz, classical and rock. Drawing equally from Jimi Hendrix, Steve Reich and Derek Bailey, McManus and company seem hell-bent on not only creating a unique group sound, but also redefining the role and accepted notions of their respective instruments.
A decidedly different, yet no less experimental, album is Pastellic Reflections. The improvised duo features McManus with fellow guitarist Joe Battaglia, performing acoustic pieces that show the striking sonic capabilities of two unplugged instruments.
Metallic punctuations and harmonic bell tones ring out on the title track, after a series of atonal chords break the silence over the grating scratch of a pick against wound, metallic strings. The two guitars, at times indistinguishable, blend sonorously before becoming distinct. Battaglia's steel-stringed acoustic, the more jarring of the pair, producing slapped, metallic rhythms against McManus' softer, Spanish-tinged nylon strings. "White Blood Cells , a 5+ minute tour-de-force that features the duo at its most cohesive, begins with muffled notes and chords from McManus' guitar before Battaglia joins, adding jarring dissonances, contrapuntal lines and open strummed chords. The episodic piece builds to a peak before contracting to muted rumblings and quietly rambling 8th note lines, only to build again. Both guitarists explore different effects, tapping percussively on the guitar's body to contrast a complex accompanying line or pounding the strings to produce resounding walls of sound from chords with no distinguishable tonal center. "Industrial Evolution mimics intricate, mechanized workings with rapidly picked, staccato passages and finds the duo creating tension by playing at opposite ends of their shared range. The two men solo with conviction and freedom, creating music as rewarding as it is challenging.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: IIX; X.
Personnel: Terrence McManus: guitar; Adam Linz: bass; J.T. Bates: drums.
Tracks: Dream Chain; Pastellic Reflections; White Blood Cells; Industrial Evolution; Desolation; Andalusia; Primaevus.
Personnel: Joe Battaglia: acoustic guitar; Terrence McManus: classical guitar.