Matta Gawa – Tambora (2011)

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Feature photo: Giovanni Russonello/CapitalBop


In that alternate universe where indie rock is fringe music and post-hardcore improvised rock is mainstream, Matta Gawa is The Black Keys. Manned merely by guitar sonic splayer Ed Ricart and drum abuser Sam Lohman, Matta Gawa is most likely the most original thing coming out of Washington, D.C. and the entire whack jazz world, for that matter. That was made crystal clear from their first full-length album bA from 2010.

Since they made that deliciously primal record, Ricart and other musicians in the D.C. area who are part of the New Atlantis Collective of musicians performing underground creative and improvised music launched the New Atlantis record label. This outfit does it all by itself from recording and design to distribution and manufacturing, Last September brought New Atlantis’ first four releases, and one of them was Matta Gawa’s follow up to bA, Tambora.

The script for Tambora is the same as it was for bA: pedal-generated effects and loops create big, scary shapes from which Rick art’s improvisations and Lohman’s thrashing leap off and into an abyss. Ricart’s psychedelic extensions on Hendrix’s explorations into the timbral characteristics of the electric guitar remain unmatched by any guitarist performing today. Lohman’s rumbles along not always to keep time but primarily to fill in any remaining space Ricart managed to leave behind. The most noticeable difference from the first album is different production tactics; in particular, Lohman’s drums sound brighter and sharper.

You might think that a bunch of wailing and thrashing about makes for sameness throughout, but Matta Gawa doesn’t roll like that. The strategies vary greatly from track to track. The twenty-minute title tune is built on Lohman’s syncopated beat until Ricart lures him away from the timekeeping to join him in fits of free-for-alls. “Navagraha” (YouTube above) isn’t even atonal, it’s actually melodic thanks to Ricart’s flowering chords. “Ephemerides” works in a similar way but here, Ricart builds up the tension that’s released in a blizzard of distorted sounds. “Vesta” is the jazziest tune, given Lohman’s almost-swinging gait and the relative airiness of the tune (that is, until Ricart unleashes a high pitched freakout to end the song). But it’s “Position” where the intensity is maxed out for nearly the entire song. It’s wonderfully unhinged to where I’m expecting to hear Peter Brötzmann’s sax join the fray at any moment.

Matta Gawa introduced a refreshingly different sound and approach to fringe music with their debut album. The sophomore album fulfilled my wish from the bA review that “there’s more such records in the near future.” Tambora is just as fertile with imaginative ideas, penetrating energy and carefree attitude.

Tambora was released last September 11 by New Atlantis Records. Purchase Matta Gawa – Tambora

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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