Out of the box thinkers Jamie Saft and Joe Morris combined forces last year for an update on the guttural, jam-rock aesthetic popular around the turn of the 70s. Slobber Pup‘s rigidly simple song structures, unforgiving improvising and thunderous noise endeared itself to us enough to force its way into the year end list of best avant-garde and experimental albums for 2013.
Just a year later, the keyboardist and guitarist extremists are joining forces, surrounding themselves with a completely different supporting band. “Plymouth,” as this new band is called, is also the name of the new disc (due out April 6, 2014 via Rare Noise Records). Joining the two this time are Gerald Cleaver on drums, Mary Halvorson on guitar and Chris Lightcap on bass…not the usual standup bass, mind you, but a hollow bodied electric bass with a fuzz pedal. That’s added on top of the fuzz coming from Saft’s organs, and the distortion tones the sometimes can be heard emitting from the guitars. Not completely abandoning the acoustic spirit, Saft also plays a piano but one that’s run through an Echoplex, and Cleaver brings a tough but acoustic attitude to the drums.
Another Saft and Morris meeting goes a long way toward making Plymouth one of the most deservedly anticipated releases in experimental music this year, but don’t overlook the Morris/Halvorson union, either. Halvorson is the next generation’s Joe Morris (and you don’t have to take my word on that), a guitarist with a unique voice and who can find the harmonic center from the vaguest of clues. Thrown in an arena with Morris — much less Saft, Lightcap and Cleaver — is child’s play for this former student of Morris, and we’re treated to a lot of her direct interactions with the elder guitarist. The big takeaway is not how they butt heads and battle each other but instead how they complement each other so well.
Plymouth‘s tunes are all jams like Slobber Pup‘s, only three of three of ‘em in all, and it too sounds dirty and raw. The difference this time is the intensity isn’t relentless, there’s room from song development, texturing and little things that tend to get noticed better. All this works in favor of (and perhaps because of) Halvorson and her interaction with that other guitarist, Morris.
“Manomet” is a twenty-minute long, lumbering, droning organism with no tempo and Morris and Halvorson peppering the fringes of it with abstruse and unhurried lines. Soon afterwards, Saft’s B3 begins a long ascension into the forefront, eventually drowning out the guitarists. Halvorson mounts a counterattack and Morris joins in with sharp, distorted flutters, shooing away Shaft’s provocation and opening up a vast space where everyone collects themselves; Halvorson offers up a soft pattern of chords as Morris undertakes a psychedelic route in hushed tones to take this monster of a tune to the end.
A celestial, Echoplex piano commences “Plimouth,” while Morris, Lightcap and Halvorson’s signature nosedives probe around Saft’s astral showers. About midway through, things take a turn toward the rock side of things and Saft’s piano is overtaken by a big dose of organ and Cleaver’s straight-ahead pounding. Guitars and bass add to the party but that piano is still hanging around, almost superfluously. Morris’ blues-rock figures once again brings a song to its ending.
The shimmering piano again provides the initial backdrop, this time for the half-hour ride “Standish.” Halvorson adds blotches of curved-sound color that Saft sometimes responds with note bendings of his own and together with Lightcap’s wandering bass lines form an alliance of serenity. But then here comes that B3 from well behind the front line and once again, serenity turns into intensity. Everyone is improvising together instinctually as a unit, too. The grind comes to a standstill at the seventeen-minute mark and the Echoplex piano returns. Like opening up the windows to a house to let the random but refreshing spring breeze in, the five reload with new ideas, eventually returning to the thickness they molded earlier but with a renewed perspective. The whole thing culminates in Saft’s soaring organ solo, challenged by Cleaver’s insanely perceptive support.
Plymouth will probably be considered the successor to Slobber Pup, and that’s probably justified. But players like Halvorson, Cleaver and Lightcap aren’t brought in to round out an existing sound, they’re there to play key roles in shaping it. They do, and with the core of Saft and Morris remaining intact through it all, Plymouth is another triumph of sinister, free rock-jazz and the extemporaneous way it all came together.
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