Oren Ambarchi, Jim O’Rourke, Keiji Haino, all onstage together. If you read that sentence, recognize those names, and don’t think of the word supergroup, I don’t understand how your mind works. Not that supergroups are always so great; consider how much trouble Blind Faith and the Traveling Wilburys each had coming up with a solid album. Of course, it’s a little different in the improv/experimental realm, where even the stars are more likely to roll with the proles than in a Rolls. The right combination of avant-garde titans — Derek Bailey & Evan Parker, Harmonia, O’Rourke and Mirror — can yield music on a par with their best work elsewhere. Tima Formosa isn’t going to make you shock anyone familiar with its performers’ other work, but it does evade the curse of self-cancellation that so often afflicts supergroups and provides a rich listen when taken on its own terms.
One reason why it works is that there’s no ego-jostling on display. O’Rourke, who plays prepared piano throughout, and Ambarchi, on typically processed guitar, never step to the forefront. Instead they work their wavering drones, chest-pressing bass swells, metallic clanks, stony scrapes, and sprinkling ivory chimes into a rich tonal fabric marked with stark reports and brief slashing movements that direct attention to the surface around them more than the gestures themselves. Perhaps they recognized from the beginning that as soon as Haino opened his mouth he’d stand out in any company? At any rate, they supply both the canvas and the frame upon which he can splash any paint he chooses. Haino does his part to build the foundation, adding electronic colors to the horizon-nudging sonic expanse. But when he switches to drum machine or voice, he’s unquestionably in the foreground. But if you’re a farmer, what do you love more; the rain and sun, or the fields they fall upon? Without one, the others mean little, and so it is with this trio’s music.