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Motorpsycho/Jaga Jazzist Horns - In The Fishtank No. 10

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Artist: Motorpsycho/Jaga Jazzist Horns

Album: In The Fishtank No. 10

Label: Konkurrent

Review date: Oct. 15, 2003

Dutch indie Konkurrent has made something of a name for itself with the sporadic In The Fishtank series, which uses as its starting point a fundamentally Northern European idea: simply give a band two days of studio time and release whatever they record. Though this might seem the ideal recipe for indulgent disaster, the series has produced some amazingly focused detours for bands such as Low, Tortoise, and Sonic Youth. Free to experiment but constrained by a limited amount of recording time, the bands often rise to the occasion by improvising, recording covers or concocting new versions of old songs.

A big part of the series’ appeal has been the tendency to invite two or more bands to collaborate in the studio, and this has continued with In The Fishtank No. 10, featuring Motorpsycho and Jaga Jazzist. Both groups hail from Norway and have apparently joined together at experimental jazz shows before; this familiarity is telling in the ease of their collaboration. The basic idea seems to have been to combine the angular, dense percussion and electronics of Motorpsycho with the free-form horns of Jaga Jazzist, resulting in a kind of big-band, post-rock fusion.

The five tracks here are, to an extent, variations on this basic idea. Both “Bombay Brassiere” and “Doffen Ah Um” work most directly from this template, with surging, dynamic beats underpinning dense horn work. Love Supreme-era Coltrane seems to be a primary influence, with horn lines that walk the thin space between elegant beauty and awkward dissonance. “Bombay Brassiere” is the more successful of the two primarily because it delays the entry of the drums for a few minutes, allowing mood and tension to build before shifting dramatically with the new focus that the rhythms provide. The two vocal tracks, which bear the strongest Motorpsycho influence, are also the weakest. Although the percussion is inventive, the vocals themselves feel out of place and slightly grating, and the overall sound is something like Morphine covering Sun Ra’s Arkestra, in Las Vegas. “Theme de Yoyo” is especially cringe-inducing, saved only by a virtuosic, noisy sax-and-guitar solo at its climax.

Despite the work’s uneven qualities, the final track, “Tristano”, justifies the entire album, and points to a larger potential for collaboration between the two groups. Clocking in at over twenty minutes, the song allows both bands to do exactly what they’re best at, while somehow maintaining a sense of order and logical progression. “Tristano” begins with a loose, almost ethereal beat, made with stray cymbals and a tapped tambourine. Slowly, synths and horns begin to coalesce around a repeating melody, carried by piano and guitar. More and more elements compete for attention, cluttering the space without pushing out the melody as the layers continue to build. The two bands deftly move between a dense, percussive atmosphere and a spare, delicate ambience. With each swing back and forth, the extremes are amplified, until the sound is a fierce wash of free-jazz horns, broken, looped beats, and buzzing synths. Over the course of the full twenty minutes, the piece is completely absorbing, reminiscent of some of Tortoise’s finer moments, a high-energy mash of loose jazz detritus and ambient noise.

As predictably uneven as a project like this may be, its freedom and lack of pretension helps to push the bands towards a new understanding of their work, and at times, the results are an exciting extension of jazz’s possibilities. Instead of attempting a safe but minimal success, bands are encouraged by Konkurrent to stretch themselves without any worry of failure. Sometimes, this leads to self-indulgence, but it can also lead to truly inspired music. This kind of risk is all too rare, and it’s laudable of Konkurrent to continually promote this kind of recording philosophy.

By Jason Dungan

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