(Unorthodox Recordings, 2013)
When I think of jazz, I automatically conjure off the top of my head the artists you probably think of – you know, the most famous, responsible for the classics: Miles, Coltrane, Ornette, Duke, Louis. The names you rattle off as a reflex. But I have to stop that – there’s no way I’m doing myself a favor by limiting the scope. While there’s always a part of me that’s going to reach for Kind of Blue or My Favorite Things or Sonny Side Up or Take Five whenever I need a fix, it should take less prodding for me to branch out. But hey, I got that prodding. In the form of an unsolicited email. Pushing this album.
Good for me, ’cause I’m psyched about this record. It’s released under drummer/percussionist/electroacoustic composer Alessio Riccio’s name, and he’s joined by guitarist Hasse Poulsen and vocalists Monica Demuru and Catherine Jauniaux. (Riccio is also credited with “laptops, hybridized rhythmicity,” and “sound mosaics.” He’s also pretty accomplished if you peruse his CV.) I call this jazz, but it’s also quite clearly something else – Riccio clearly labors over assembly of the sound on Ninshubar, and as such it’s quite well composed. I’m not clear on how much, if any, of this record was improvised – there’s a definite sense of Poulsen’s virtuosity (and Riccio’s), but it’s more in the John Zorn/Naked City mold, controlled chaos within scales resulting much more in mood pieces than anything. Riccio incorporates noise and drone as well, but is no stranger to a wicked groove when he needs one. So as jazz, it’s maybe a little less that than a combination of styles coalescing into some crazy concoction, a whole resonating with influence and ingenuity, a vibrant wild ride filled with twists and turns and mad discovery. Maybe what I was trying to get at in that first paragraph was that I’ve narrowed my focus too much, become too content with the classics – perhaps I should look beyond the American landscape for wicked jazz musicians. Italy apparently features some pretty damn fertile ground.
I haven’t even touched on the potential of opera here – a realization almost undoubtedly the effect of knowing Riccio’s heritage. Nevertheless, the dual vocalists Monica Demuru and Catherine Jauniaux are featured on almost every track, and quite prominently. Their voices meld well with the rest of the instrumentation – their delivery is mainly spoken, the percentage of sung passages is surprisingly low. When they do sing, it’s often a wail to punctuate the mood, or a note or run to ground the listener tonally. The voices are often strikingly employed, and I was surprised by how welcome a reception I gave them. But here’s where my conjecture potentially conflicts with reality though: I don’t speak Italian, so when I hear it spoken or sung here, I perceive it as an additional instrument, not as vehicle conveying story or meaning. I just kinda think it would be cool if Ninshubar was also an opera in its loosest definition.
But hey, that’s my call, and yours, if Italian isn’t something you understand. What you should understand is that Ninshubar is a crazy and enjoyable ride, with all the teeth and intensity of that wolf up there on the cover. Perhaps no passage better illuminates Riccio and crew’s virtuosity than “Ishbu Kubu – Maenads_Ninshubar/premise_Nell’ira” (pronounce at your own risk…), an almost-9-minute suite that bounces around stylistically, settling into brief grooves and skittering almost immediately back out of them to highlight the rapid-fire instrumentation on which the teetering structure is built. A smattering of drums here, a guitar run there, some horn or bass, a vocal sample (or actual vocal) – all of this peripheral material focuses at points to give it all reference. It’s a close cousin to Mr. Bungle’s “Carry Stress in the Jaw,” but without the immediate musical references that the average listener may figure out.
I think it bears repeating: Riccio’s masterful at crafting mood, especially on the spooky “Solennità Dell’ombra,” where tones and voices are pieced together in creepy layers. The tones are slashed and blooded in a chaotic breakdown about halfway in, after which Riccio recedes into the night. Although the instruments and voices are fractured and torn apart within the piece’s structure, there’s no mistaking that mood and its masterful curation. The track bleeds into “Bacchae,” which trades in similar dark, droney patterns before chaotic elements break through. I could probably continue in this vein for the rest of the album, as “T6B – Cerbiaatta_Hieros Gamos_La Saggezza Ideale_Infiniti Gli Uomini” works similar magic within its multiple parts. And hey, it’s Halloween today, the day that I’m writing this! How appropriate!
Ninshubar – From the Above to the Below is a psychotic, kamikaze headrush built on conflict and brief glimpses of resolution. It’s breathless, precocious, and, if you can avoid the almost-inevitable faceplant following the vertigo the album is bound to induce, there’s no way you’ll leave it feeling the same about jazz, or electroacoustic composition, or noise, or even the clarity of boundaries between styles. There’s no other way to experience Alessio Riccio’s genius except to let the ADD-addled, keep up/keep up compositions bombard you endlessly. There’s a lot to hear in here – stick your head in and see what happens.
RIYL: Derek Piotr, John Zorn, The Hand to Man Band