Saturday, September 20, 2008

The New Monuments - C (American Tapes CD-R)

New Monuments rolled through campus last Sunday for a killer show with Century Plants and my band, Herons. It being the first show I'd booked I was in large part flipping my shit over the whole matter, especially as New Monuments represented a kind of uber-trifecta of some of my favorite experimental/free jazz stuff today. With Ben Hall (Graveyards, Brokenresearch, etc.) on drums, C Spencer Yeh (Burning Star Core) on effected violin and Don Dietrich (Borbetomagus) on saxophone as fed through a quarantine of pedals, the whole night was rather nerve-wracking, though by night's end my terror had settled into a kind of amiable simmer.

As for the set, the group started off with some pretty heavy feedback from Dietrich's end, some high pitched weirdness over which Yeh laid down some foundational drones. They held this, suspended just like that, for all of five seconds before diving in, Hall crashing in on drums and never letting up as the whole thing gave way to Machine Gun level hysterics. It was a killer set, super high energy, and the thirty or forty people who showed up seemed to be big into it. And talk about three super nice guys (along with, of course, the oft spoken of Century Plants). Great night overall.

Anyway, the way the band's been dealing with merch is kind of clever, although hardly helpful to those looking for more. Basically, each night on the tour the band records their set and sells it the next day as American Tapes 798 in a limited edition of 20. So if you don't see them on tour and you don't want to drop the $100 on all eight nights, good luck. Ben was kind enough to lay some items on me, including that disc, in my case a document of the third night of the tour when they opened for Joe McPhee, Paul Flaherty and Chris Corsano.

While the group only played one set at ours (although it was at least a twenty minute set, if not longer) this disc shows two separate tracks, the first about six minutes long and the second a more expansive sixteen. The first track kicks off in a hard ray, with Hall's drums practically tearing the recording microphones off their stands before Dietrich and Yeh come reeling in straight out of hell. Dietrich is as firey a player as they come, and he tears the walls down and builds them back up again on this, letting loose in some torrent of energy. Yeh's violin effects underneath, sometimes played with one bow or sometimes with two, are eerie and fuzzed out, all textural mayhem over Hall's grooving onslaught. At one point during the show I saw, Dietrich put his mic on top of his amp, creating some low bellow that he played right along with, and you get the feeling that the same kind of play is happening here, three voices made to be four, four to be five, etc.

The second track opens with a deep growl from Dietrich over the walls of static and fuzz reated by Yeh. Everything is held in place only by it duration, high end tones ringing in from afar like some long lost Axolotl track before Hall kicks it off into some kind of post-Shepp blowout session. Hall comes across as a wall of sound, not totally free but pulsing in fits and bursts of energetic catharsis while Dietrich could pass as a Brotzmann or Frank Wright as covered by soot. Yeh's violin sounds screech across the kinetic landscape, filling out the sound and adding a dimension unusual for this kind of instrumentation.

The whole disc is gorgeous for fans of free jazz and noise alike. Considering it's released on American Tapes, maybe it will further help to close some of the gaps in the world of improvisatory music. If enough people hear it of course. Snag one if you can, I can promise that D is killer as well as I was there. A beautiful and logical step for American Tapes and a continuation of the careers of some of the most exciting improvisers in the scene today.

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