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Artist: Rhyton

Album: Rhyton

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Jan. 23, 2012

The word “Rhyton” is Greek for an ancient drinking horn, as well as a homophone for the 1960s all-purpose acclamation “right on!” Rhyton, the band, reflects all these nuances. The band is a partnership between Dave Shuford of NNCK and D. Charles Speer, Jimy SeiTang of Psychic Ills and Spencer Herbst of Messages. It grew out of the ending of Dave Shuford’s Greek-influenced Arghiledes project, started among drinking buddies at a bar in Brooklyn, and borrowed liberally from the open-ended blues-droning, psychedelic experiments of the 1960s.

Rhyton’s first album was recorded mostly live over a three-day period, primarily using rock instruments (guitar, bass, drums), but also employing alternative, ethnic stringed instruments, saxophones and tape manipulation. All five cuts favor long-form virtues – groove, drone, aura – over melodic structure. All explore the tensions between repetition and improvisation over extended intervals.

Consider “Stone Colored,” the disc’s opening track. It begins with SeiTang’s unadorned bass-line, a four-note riff that starts with two grounding tones at middle C, dips down to G and curves back up to B flat before starting again in the next measure. This rock solid foundation continues throughout the song’s entire seven-and-a-half minute duration, as the guitar and drums elaborate, with increasing wildness, on their themes. It’s the one element that remains constant, the one thing that ties this song’s improvisatory excesses to the here-and-now of metered reality.

In “Pontian Grave,” the bassline serves essentially the same function, though in a lighter, more syncopated way. The repeated foundation is two measures rather than just one, but the two are mirror images of each other, one curving upward, the other downward. There’s a lightness in this one that’s not in “Stone Colored," a sense of play and dance in the half step hesitation and flurry of eighth notes that follow it.

“Pontian Grave” has an Eastern, possibly Greek lilt to it, but closer “Shank Raids” best marries Western psychedelic rock with Eastern European melody. Again, the bass and drums lock into a hard-kicking rhythm, a beat that bobs and rebounds and circles back on itself rather than moving straight forward. It’s a communal, traditional foundation topped by guitar arcs and spirals in free-form, exploratory abandon. It’s simultaneously a nod to tradition and an ecstatic grasp for the unknowable.

And maybe that’s what makes Rhyton’s album so enjoyable, the sense that old wine can -- in the right distorted, rock-amplified hands -- still get you raging drunk. In this possibly one-off collaboration, Shuford and his pals have dug up an archaic artifact and filled it with powerful intoxicants. Rhyton, indeed.

By Jennifer Kelly

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