Sunday 4 April 2010

THE MILO FINE FREE JAZZ ENSEMBLE – The Untenability Of Sentience + More Wistful Tunes For The Sincere

Shih Shih Wu Ai

Milo Fine is as pure an improviser as we might hope to find. After having listened to his beyond-genre, untainted playing over a number of releases - especially on Emanem - I was very pleased to relish more of that spontaneous craft thanks to this item, a double whammy containing two live exhibitions that let us see different facets of this artist’s unlabelled sound world. Both CDs contain efficiently genuine instrumental sociability informed by a variety of creativeness that comes out unsoiled, not hyperbolical or, worse still, verging on the ridiculous. The records are issued on Fine’s private label and require firm concentration. This is not background stuff: the utmost attention is necessary to make a way throughout the various layers and catch the minute details that define the collective effort’s best traits.

The Untenability Of Sentience was recorded at the West Bank School Of Music, August 2009, by a trio consisting of Fine on M-drums II (electronics), piano, electronic piano, clarinets and voice, plus guitarists Steve Gnitka and Charles Gillett. The atmosphere that one breathes across an assortment of situations is prevalently exemplified by a state of extreme relaxation. The reciprocal listening is regulated by a significant attentiveness with rooms available for sixth sense, preferably transformed in unstinting gestural freedom. Clattering eruptions, unmanageable discharges and atonal ungrammaticalness produce constant surprise under the guise of shapeless electroacoustic matter, Gnitka and Gillett doing their best to maintain a semi-acoustic vibe through the usually polite, occasionally biting timbre of the axes. During short pauses we just hear the amplifiers’ hum, soon replaced by additional extravagant combinations of implausible sounds that, once locked together, appear as ideal complements to a play-now-forget-later kind of liberation. The highest point must be Fine’s hammering of the piano’s peak registers at the start of “87092”, which is invigorating to say the least: a cross of Nancarrow and a spastic version of Sergei Kuryokhin attributing further luminosity to an already brilliant performance.

More Wistful Tunes For The Sincere was captured on tape at Homewood Studios a month afterwards. Fine (drum set/bowed cymbals and clarinets) and Gnitka (guitar) are still in the party, this time with Scott Newell (tenor sax, voice) and Stefan Kac (tuba). This record tends to (hardly) justify the “Free Jazz Ensemble” name but don’t you ever think that hints to Ornette Coleman or Archie Shepp are going to be found. Basically, there’s a lot of high-quality interaction between the reeds when Fine decides to switch to clarinet and swap blows with Newell, and sturdily disjointed mayhem when the home’s owner goes back behind the drums, where he unleashes unsympathetic anti-patterns and eccentric rolls while the guitar/tuba/sax discussion becomes animated enough to recall - well yes – some pages of discordant jazz. Despite the innumerable parts in motion, the music always stays in the “unassumingly sane” pen (let’s pretend to ignore Newell’s willingly disconnected crooning); the anarchic sparkle that ignited the first CD’s restrained abstractions is a tad less vivid. On the other hand a tangible irony permeates the act, and what’s lost in impulsive lawlessness is instead gained in terms of hilarious blasts and revisionist – and not so wistful - “tunes”. Additional spots for Gnitka's virtuoso destruction of six-stringed common jargons and Kac's imperturbably lyrical serenity are also granted.

There are ways of sounding dissenting without appearing stupid – something that not all the self-styled “improvising musicians” on the market are able to achieve. These recordings show that on-the-spot inspiration, clever absurdity and a degree of internal sensibility work wonders in exploiting flexible structures inhabited by unblenching originality.