When a band of four leaders in their own right still exists over ten years after its inception, then something worthwhile is afoot. Illegal Crowns comprises the familiar American triumvirate of guitarist Mary Halvorson, cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, who first crossed paths with French pianist Benoit Delbecq in 2012. Their third album Unclosing follows on from an eponymous debut (Rogue Art 2016) and the sophomore No-Nosed Puppet (Rogue Art , 2020). An accomplished blend of accessibility and experimentalism distinguished both those discs, and it is once again in evidence, perhaps better integrated this time out than ever before.
A collective ethos manifests in three tunes from the pen of each principal except Bynum. But, whoever the author, there is common ground which finds the adventure cloaked in a veneer of strong melodies and infectious rhythm. In the absence of a bassist, Halvorson and Delbecq share structural duties, taking turns to anchor, riff and vamp. Bynum offers a rumpled careworn lyricism well-suited to the often lilting refrains which adorn the nine pieces. Of course, all three show themselves to be stellar soloists. While there are no individual showcases for Fujiwara, his combination of grace and steel pervades the entire program.
Although solo spots are skilfully woven into the compositional fabric, each player seizes their opportunities when they arise. In particular Delbecq's piano preparations, which evoke comparisons as diverse as Central African pygmy music and South East Asian gamelan, give the band a distinctive flavor. They feature alongside Halvorson's percussive FX to bookend the lullaby feel of the title track, to introduce the bucolic-veers-stormy "Fading Wave," and in an uneven tumbling pulse in tandem with Fujiwara at the outset of "Freud And Jung Go Cycling."
Every cut, from the intersecting planes of the opening "Crooked Frame," and the edgy collisions of "Triple Fever," to the valedictory shuffle of the final "Soul Of The Grey," defies expectation with unpredictable twists which keep the listener engaged while at the same time entertained. One can not ask for more than that.
Crooked Frame; Unclosing; Triple Fever; Fading Wave; Osmosis Crown; Freud and Jung Go Cycling; G. Ocean; Les Mots et les Choses; Soul of the Grey.
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