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Sonar with David Torn: Vortex

Mark Sullivan By

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Swiss art rock/minimalist band Sonar have always had a way with a groove, combining repeating patterns (frequently in mixed meters) into a hypnotic blend. In this they have a lot in common with Steve Reich's Musicians (in the new-music world) and fellow Swiss Nik Bärtsch's Ronin (in the jazz world). Sonar has always sounded like a rock band, but somewhat restrained. With American guitarist/looper David Torn as producer and collaborator it has found its id: music with a rougher, more spontaneous sound.

"Part 44" opens the album with a propulsive multi-sectional composition which guitarist and principal Sonar composer Stephan Thelen adapted from a piece by innovative Swiss minimalist Don Li. It would be a powerful beginning without Torn's contribution. But with his increasingly urgent commentary it reaches another level. "Waves And Particles" features a very free Torn solo, soaring over the shifting groove. A treat for Torn and Sonar fans alike, it demonstrates the synergy they found working together.

"Monolith" is credited to Thelen and Torn. The shifting harmonies build in intensity, and Torn again plays melodies and textures over Sonar's angular rhythms. The title tune is one of Thelen's trademark tritone-harmonics compositions. Complex, but the band really digs into it, and Torn plays some complex complementary lines while simultaneously sounding completely spontaneous. "Lookface!" closes the set with a completely improvised piece, a blast of rock energy. While it may be more direct than the rest of the album, it still sounds of a piece with it. And the slow fade about halfway in leads into an atmospheric ending. More Torn than Sonar, but it feels exactly right.

The Torn/Sonar relationship began with production, the intention being to have Torn occasionally guest on tracks. But the excitement created by Torn's playing quickly elevated him to fifth band member. The results speak for themselves. However unlikely the collaboration may have appeared at first, it now sounds like a perfect marriage. Torn's playing adds another layer to the group's sound, enriching it emotionally and texturally.

Track Listing: Part 44; Red Shift; Waves And Particles; Monolith; Vortex; Lookface!

Personnel: Stephan Thelen: guitar; Bernhard Wagner: guitar; Christian Kuntner: electric bass; Manuel Pasquinelli: drums; David Torn: electric guitar, live-looping & manipulation.

Title: Vortex | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: RareNoiseRecords

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