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V/A - The Blasting Concept

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Artist: V/A

Album: The Blasting Concept

Label: Smalltown Superjazz

Review date: Aug. 21, 2009

Borrowing its title from a pair of influential SST samplers released several decades earlier, The Blasting Concept shines a klieg light on the catalog of the previously elusive Smalltown Superjazz label out of Norway. Noise Jazz and Action Jazz are two tags coined recently to cover the intersection of idioms under scrutiny. Artists in the imprint’s orbit include hoary free jazz royalty like Peter Brötzmann and Joe McPhee along with avant rock avatars like Jim O’Rourke and Thurston Moore. Even with that breadth of scope, the parameters of the label’s aesthetic are pretty easy to peg, frequently grafting prog and punk rock energy to a febrile jazz improv foundation.

The duo of electronicists Lasse Marhaug and John Hegre opens the set with “Freemix Norwave,” a mash-up of disco funk and free-jazz skronk snatches glued together with jarring interstitial static. Thurston Moore lends a remix assist, though given the already splintered surfaces of the sounds, it’s hard to discern his exact contributions. He’s also part of two other collectives: Original Silence, which traffics in tightly wound prog funk, and the self-deprecatingly named Diskaholics Anonymous, a trio with O’Rourke and Mats Gustafsson that puns on its members’ shared vinyl addiction in a collage of jigsaw electronics, reeds and guitar. The rest of the selections toggle between amplified and acoustic ends of the spectrum. The former category contains Marhaug’s densely woven “Alarmed and Distressed Duckling”; the latter ropes in working free-jazz ensembles like The Thing (comprised of Gustafsson, Ingebrigt Häker Flaten and Paal Nilssen-Love joined here by McPhee), and Free Fall, which teams Ken Vandermark with pianist Härvard Wiik and Flaten in an oblique tribute to Jimmy Giuffre.

Samplers can be a hard sell in this age of instant downloads and enduring album fetishism, so compiler Joakim Haugland sweetens the pot with two “exclusive” tracks not available elsewhere. Both are duos featuring Nilssen-Love in the company of Vandermark and McPhee, respectively, and are presumably outtakes from the albums documenting each combination. Nilssen-Love is something of the house drummer for the label, his kit capably propelling the action on seven out of the 12 tracks. The disc does a thorough job demonstrating his percussive flexibility from matching the typhoon intensity of Brötzmann and Gustafsson on the full bore blowout “Bullets Through Rain” (here curiously credited as “Bullets Through Pain”) to the quiet dialogue with McPhee on “Today.”

No longer just a regional secret, Smalltown Superjazz has been making inroads on the distribution front, its wares now readily available at many discerning brick and mortars. This sampler serves as good bait for curious stateside listeners and a sound gateway to the albums distilled.

By Derek Taylor

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