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Sonore - OTO

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Artist: Sonore

Album: OTO

Label: Trost

Review date: Apr. 13, 2012

Peter Brötzmann, Ken Vandermark and Mats Gustafsson have all hit their share of career highlights, including recording the first great album of European improvised music, winning a MacArthur grant, and recording the only known Christmas song to feature both slide saxophone and turntables. But each of those events represents a single day in a life of work, and for these three guys, it’s all about the work. Each day, each gig, each record is part of that cumulative body of work. It takes just a few minutes spent reading Vandermark’s Facebook posts, or Twitter feed to know that he’s a process-oriented guy, always thinking about how to move the music ahead, and while the other two aren’t so prone to airing their thoughts about their work in print, I doubt they’d differ with his fundamental priorities.

So any record this trio makes freezes one moment in an ongoing, evolutionary process. But none of them is into Bowie-style reinvention; each musician has an instantly identifiable sound, even when they’re blasting the same note on the same horn. And that’s a good thing in Sonore, since it’s just the three of them, all working out the music in real time with a trunkful of clarinets, saxophones and kin. All of them are capable of full-bore ferocity, but what makes this music work is contrast and dynamics. Each of OTO’s four pieces is a white-knuckled traversal of unstable ground, with the players shifting roles, methods, and horns. On “Fragments of an Endgame,” the music dissolves and rises again as a fast-spinning configuration that makes it feel like you’re on a carousel, turning past each musician, their sounds dopplering and changing in volume according to your ever-changing relation to their position. How’s that for psychedelic? “Le Chien Perdu” starts out as a harsh Gustafsson solo that is positively operatic in its emotional extravagance. Then the others jump in, the volume drops, and for a moment the music is like the Ellington Orchestra’s saddest utterance ever.

The unifying factor here is extremity plus something more; the hardest assaults usher in more complex expressions, and when they’re playing it quiet and lovely, they’re still reaching for something beyond. Which brings us back to the matter of work. Each of these musicians is a known quantity, and if what you want is a strong and intense playing, each of them will reliably deliver the goods. But they want more. Within the boundaries of certain givens — their individual sounds on their reed instruments, and their collective commitment to improvising using the post-Albert Ayler reed vocabulary — they want to make the music immediate in ways that transcend simple, face-blasting intensity. It’s not the same thing as total surprise, or even freshness. They’re going for undiluted engagement with the sound’s force and transformation, and with each other. They’re going for being there, even though “there” is never in the same place. And on the night in London that is captured on this disc, they were all there.

By Bill Meyer

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