Ifa y Xango Tentet: Twice Left Handed / Shavings

Dave Wayne By

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A culturally improbable collaboration of Brazilian, Portuguese, and Belgian musicians, the Ifa y Xango Tentet is easily one of the most adventurous large ensembles operating anywhere in the world today. Co-operative in nature, and playing entirely their own original compositions, the group's vision, as captured on Twice Left Handed / Shavings encompasses jazz, rock, post-rock, doom / sludge, free improvisation, musique concrète, and electronic dance music in equal measure. This might seem a complete mish-mosh from this admittedly inadequate portrayal, but Ifa y Xango's music is crafted with exceptional discipline, focus and clarity: traits rarely found in improvisational music these days. Each track on this too-brief album stands alone as a definitive artistic statement. It's almost as if each track was made by a different band—a sampler of sorts—yet the musicians' individual personalities shine through.

Three of the musicians involved here—keyboardist Seppe Gebruers, bassist Laurens Smet, and saxophonist Viktor Perdieus—are members of Bambi Pang Pang, an acoustic jazz quartet featuring jazz legend Andrew Cyrille on drums. Ifa y Xango drummer Joao Lobo is known for his work as a bandleader and as a sideman with Enrico Rava, Scott Fields, and Roswell Rudd. But none of these musical associations mean anything in the context of Ifa y Xango. The music on Twice Left Handed / Shavings really stands apart from jazz, or even avant-garde jazz. There is really something else going on here.

The album's centerpiece is its final cut, "Shavings," a nearly 15-minute long exploration of heavy electronic improvised funk that expands on the experimental edges of Miles Davis' On The Corner (Columbia Records, 1972). Soloists keep their statements concise, peeping in and out at will from the dense interweave of percussion, bass and electronics. Superimposed on this deftly pulsating polyrhythmic sound collage are remarkably sweet melodic passages: some of which recall the dulcet tones of Haitian or Guadeloupean dance music. It's bizarre, but it works.

The preceding four tracks dip into completely distinct and well-defined sound worlds. The twin drumsets of Lobo and Ruben Pensaert open "Kamchatka" at an impossibly slow tempo (the doom / sludge influence mentioned above). The plodding beat is overlain by a series of enormous ensemble chords that dissolve into drones: some instruments (Moog bass, reeds, brass) sustaining through several pulses, others (guitar, percussion) dying out more rapidly. The granularity of the sound itself sustains interest, though Perdieus and Niels Van Heertum blow ecstatic solos above the din.

The droning twang and scraped chords of Bert Cools' and Ruben Machtelinckx' guitars on "Fjaka" evokes images of post-apocalyptic, blown-out desert landscapes. Strains of post-rock also inform "Moedwil," a brief almost ambient piece that certainly could have been extended a bit. "Gamma" starts out as an delicate, minimal drone piece for saxophones and euphonium, but gets subverted by blasts of percussion and electronics. The horns prevail to the end, however, establishing an icily beautiful soundscape.

Ifa y Xango are clearly thinking well beyond the boundaries of what is known and accepted within any given musical genre, be it jazz or rock or whatever. Monumentally trangressive, the music on Twice Left Handed / Shavings will delight some, and infuriate others. This album is easily one of the most adventurous, daring, and accomplished recordings of 2015.

Track Listing: Kamchatka; Fjaka; Gamma; Moedwil; Shavings.

Personnel: Filipe Nader: alto saxophone; Viktor Perdieus: tenor saxophone; Niels van Heertum: euphonium; João Lobo: drums; Ruben Pensaert: drums; Sep François: percussion; Seppe Gebruers: keyboards and electronics; Bert Cools: guitar and electronics; Ruben Machtelinckx: guitar and electronics; Laurens Smet: bass and electronics.

Title: Twice Left Handed / Shavings | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: El Negocito Records


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