When we last checked in with Peter Van Huffel, he was piloting a delicate dance between modern jazz and out jazz for his quartet’s Like The Rusted Key (2010). Since then, this Berlin-based Canadian alto saxophonist had formed a new band, a trio that does a slam dance between out jazz and hardcore. Formed just months after Rusted Key, Huffel’s trio of himself, Roland Fidezius (acoustic bass, noise), Rudi Fischerlehner (drums and percussion) might not seem the ideal kind of ensemble to get guttural, but don’t be fooled. Huffel and his crew, dubbed “Gorilla Mask,” bring both the Brötzmann and the Black Flag in a tidy, compact package.
Huffel’s Gorilla Mask gets it done with a lot of gumption and a little bit of technological assistance. Both drive the opener “Legendarious,” where the noise created resembles guitar feedback, but the real energy comes out of the bell of Huffel’s testosterone-charged alto, barreling through a rapid free moment in the middle of riding a hard groove from the rhythm section. Eventually, that groove careens out of control and reasserts itself, never losing intensity.
“Legendarious,” announces the strategy for most of the album: straightforward melodies played with brute force, peppered by thrash-jazz diversions and scary, odd sounds. But kept short, catchy and, well, loud enough to make them harder to shake. Continuing onto “Z,” the three also makes good use of tension building and release: Huffel wailing over a bass/drum unison march that in the middle of the song explodes into head snapping heavy metal crunch, where Fidezius gets his stand-up bass to resemble a fuzzed-out-through-Marshall-stacks electric guitar. “Fucked” goes much the same way. And “Angry Monster” starts living up to its name when the song builds up to a white noise frenzy. For those craving the jazzier side of whack jazz, “Monkey’s Revenge” is there for you, and Fischerlehner acquits himself well on this track.
A few times, Huffel goes soft, just to keep things unexpected, but these aren’t bland ballads. “Fire Burning” is a Scottish bagpipes drone constructed with an alto sax and a tricked-out bowed bass. “Iggy’s Secret” employs the Albert Ayler tactic of devising a child-like melody that’s played in an almost sing-song clip, but then they jazz it up, so to speak, with some free improv sprinkled throughout.
Huffel’s more direct, confrontational method results in a thrash-jazz record that’s more purposeful, unpredictable and just plain fun. Huffel and Gorilla Mask have created the perfect gateway drug into acoustic jazz for Henry Rollins fans.