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Stefan Pasborg & Liudas Mockunas: Toxicum

John Kelman By

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Toxicum means poison, and that's about as good a description as any of this band and its music. More traditional musical ideas are perverted by a modern creative music bent that makes for an ambitious concept, and even more audacious listening; to call this album challenging would be an understatement.

Percussionist Stefan Pasborg is a young Dane who has, in the past several years, studied with artists including Joey Baron, Jim Black and Daniel Humair—and given his experience, it is no surprise that his playing is daring, although it sometimes seems barely on the edge of sanity. But through it all he demonstrates a strong command of the kit; even at its most crazed this is no random bashing. Pasborg's partner, Lithuanian saxophonist Liudas Mockūnas shares his sense of the absurd. With a résumé that includes playing in Andrew Hill's '03 Jazzpar Nonet, Mockunas has a style that moves between the sublime and the ridiculous, often within the same piece, sometimes from moment to moment.

There are traces of the Art Ensemble of Chicago in the controlled chaos but none of the Afro-centricity that informs the aforementioned group's work. There is, however a similarly comic approach; witness "Klovnen Brian (Indtager Andedammen!!)," which begins with sounds of splashing water and duck calls before segueing into a completely off-kilter polka. "Avante-Scène" features French guitarist Marc Ducret playing with Pasborg in a way that can only be described as reckless abandon.

But, while the overall approach of the album is characterized by a generalized intensity, there are moments of respite. "Iki" begins in an almost ambient fashion before shifting gears into a rhythmically-charged 6/4 groove over which Mockunas rants and raves. "SMS Life" begins with Morton Feldman-like minimalism, with the space between almost as important as the notes played; this does not last, however, as the piece builds into total chaos before breaking down into a soprano saxophone solo from Mockunas that is his most focused playing of the set. "Le Bijoux Des Abbesses" is remarkably beautiful. Although Mockunas contributes strange multiphonics, they are layered over long, rich bass clarinet lines that lull the listener into a false sense of security as the piece ends and one of two percussion-voice duets between Pasborg and John Tchicai, strongly rooted in art house, begins.

Pasborg has been nominated for New Name of the Year at the Danish Music Awards Jazz 2004, and Toxicum has been nominated for Jazz Discovery of the Year. Whether or not the group deserves such accolades at such an early stage is questionable; still, Pasborg and Mockunas, with Toxicum , have crafted an original work that clearly challenges preconceptions and combines serious improvisation with a theatrical sense of absurdity that makes it an interesting, if not altogether captivating, listen.

Visit Stefan Pasborg and ILK Music on the web.

Track Listing: Alarm Part 1; IKI; Eigene Zeit II; Social; Dinamo Dilemma; IKI II; The Choice; Klovnen Brian (Indtager Andedammen!!); Avant-Scene; SMS Life; Le Bijoux Des Abbesses; Sinar Bulan; Alarm Part 2

Personnel: Stefan Pasborg (drums, percussion, dictaphone), Liudas Mockunas (reeds), Jakob Riis (laptop, trombone), Jacob Andersekov (rhodes, piano, moog), Nils Davidsen (electric bass)

With special guests: Marc Ducret (guitar), John Tchicai (voice), Jakob Munck (tuba, trombone), Niclas Knudsen (guitar), Ketil Duckert (trumpet), Thomas Vang (mandolin), Darius Diksaitis (1st and 2nd violins), Roberta Bliskevicius (viola), Mindaugas Backus (cello)

Title: Toxicum | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: ILK Music


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