A-Sun Amissa – You Stood Up For Victory, We Stood Up For Less (Gizeh)
Gizeh Records continue to probe the fine lines between drone, dark ambient and modern composition on this second release by A-Sun Amissa, a duo of guitarist Richard Knox and string player Angela Chan, augmented here by Gareth Davis on bass clarinet and extra guitar from Owen Pegg. A title like You Stood Up For Victory, We Stood Up For Less evokes the intense post-rock of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and A-Sun Amissa share some of the Canadians’ moody vibe, but explore sound in more intricate and atmospheric ways across two side-long pieces. Knox and Chan take time to build these compositions, opening with hesitant and mournful guitar arpeggios and softly swirling viola and violin drones, often pitched at different volumes to open up a wide sonic vista. As the pieces develop, so does the intensity, Knox’s guitar becoming more seething and blunt, although they never descend into full-on free-for-all, instead holding the atmosphere delicately in balance between light and darkness. The best of the two tracks is ‘Part Two’, where Knox and Chan’s ghostly melodies are bolstered by Davis’ haunting, at times abrasive, clarinet. There is a wealth of detail across both pieces, but You Stood Up For Victory, We Stood Up For Less is most enjoyable if you take it in as a whole, and allow A-Sun Amissa’s spectral majesty to enfold you like a slightly chilly, unsettling but ultimately reassuring blanket.
Life Coach – Alphawaves (Thrill Jockey)
OK, so Life Coach wear their Neu!/La Düsseldorf influence so prominently on their sleeves that said sleeves could well have been woven out of Klaus Dinger’s hair, but pastiche is enjoyable when done this well. The title track of this album chunters along at a properly motorik pace courtesy of former Mars Volta drummer Jon Theodore, whose languid, elegantly repetitive drumming serves as an unrelenting platform for Phil Manley and Golden Void guitarist Isaiah Mitchell to weave seamless solos around one another, snaking ever upwards. It might sound like a souped-up cover of ‘Hallogallo’, but damn it’s effective! Most striking about Alphawaves, though, is the way in which every track blends into the next, resulting in a unified tapestry that moves effortlessly from nocturnal ambience and graceful post-rock on ‘Limitless Possibilities’ to bleak psychedelic drone on closer ‘Ohm’ (imagine a guitar-driven Tangerine Dream in their Zeit period) via rambunctious funk-rock (‘Fireball’), feedback experiments (‘Life Experience’) and hints of proggy classic rock on ‘Mind’s Eye’. Forget the naff cover, Alphawaves is rock done well, where the band’s clear influences are expertly processed into something altogether its own.
Colin Webster, Mark Holub, Sheik Anorak – Languages… Live at Vortex (Gaffer Records)
I so frequently laud and applaud Dalston’s Cafe Oto on The Liminal that it can be easy to forget that there’s another bastion of adventurous music located just around the corner in the form of The Vortex. Luckily, the venue’s unique charm is nicely captured on this delightful Anglo-French collaboration between saxophonist Colin Webster, guitarist Sheik Anorak and Mark Holub on drums. Like that other recent live jazz gem Spontaneous Combustion, by Decoy with Joe McPhee, on Languages… Holub, Anorak and Webster display tight interplay interwoven with blistering moments of high-octane improvisation. It’s a familiar, yet always thrilling, trope of improvised music: the first bars of opener ‘Il Fait Chaud’ see the trio feeling around each other with flutters of sax, sneaky drum rolls and a scattering of loose guitar chords, but as they find their feet, it builds up into a hectic head rush of supple musical conversations. Webster’s tone is actually not unlike McPhee’s, while Anorak tugs and rips chords and solos out of his guitar at breakneck speed, coming on like a less molten Sonny Sharrock circa Black Woman. With neat feeling they speed up, slow down, pitch up the volume or descend into near silence without dropping the flow of each track. Throughout, it’s clear how much fun they must have had in the process, which makes Languages… one of the most entertaining live jazz outings out there.
Zs – Grain (Northern Spy)
Zs’ current incarnation as a trio of Sam Hillmer, Greg Fox and Patrick Higgins is a wiry, aggressive beast that manipulates the core elements (sax, percussion, guitar) at play on this 40-minute EP in truly gnarly fashion. At times, I was reminded of the drone-heavy math rock swirls on Tortoise’s Millions Now Living Will Never Die, except with that band’s precision replaced by a gloriously chaotic abundance of gristly electronics that serve as jarring segues between the endless temporal and stylistic shifts that dominate Grain. The EP is assembled, surging through barreling percussive rolls, sheets of skronking sax and dense clusters of drone and guitar manipulation. Zs don’t limit themselves to loudness or aggression, with several contemplative moments, where Hillmer’s delicate sax weaves around minimal percussion from Fox and heavily-treated guitar flutters by Higgins. At their best, these ever-shifting textures and movements bring to mind the best electroacoustic music of Robert Hampson’s Main or early Kevin Drumm.