July 5, 2012

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Neneh Cherry& The Thing

The Cherry Thing

(Smalltown Supersound)

Singer Neneh Cherry has had a meandering musical career spanning three decades, going from post-punk era outfits like Rip Rig + Panic to hip-hop/pop/dance solo artist success (remember “Buffalo Stance”?) to being a collaborator with the pioneering trip-hop group Massive Attack. It’s easy to forget that she was raised with an infusion of free jazz—her stepfather was the brilliant trumpeter Don Cherry, whose own remarkable solo albums were often unfairly overshadowed by his partnership with saxophonist Ornette Coleman. The Scandinavian free jazz trio The Thing was formed a dozen years ago initially as a tribute to Don Cherry, so it makes sense that Neneh Cherry and The Thing have teamed up on an album that attempts to bring free jazz out of the fringes.

“Cashback,” a Neneh Cherry original, is an impressive opener, with urgent, insistent drumming from Paal Nilssen-Love and pointed, sturdy upright-bass playing from Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, complementing the street-smart flair of Cherry. However, Mats Gustafsson steals the scene with his fiery sax squawking, coming from the Peter Brötzmann school of hard-blowing, and kudos to him for not holding back. The other original, Gustafsson’s “Sudden Moment,” slithers with the vocals and sax mirroring each other, and it might be a surprise to those only accustomed to his intense avant-jazz side. A cover of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream” avoids the metronomic momentum of other renditions and has a peculiar tug to it, going for a smoother roll; it definitely grows on you. Some covers dig into a riff with less success, like the take on the Stooges’ “Dirt,” but the non-western groove of “Golden Heart” (a Don Cherry piece) and the soulful, loose rendering of “What Reason Could I Give?” (by Ornette Coleman) work well. The quartet storms through its material, serving as an avant-jazz crossover that may get the attention of rockist listeners and presents Cherry as an ample jazz songstress.

The Home of Easy Credit

The Home of Easy Credit

(Northern Spy)

The husband-and-wife queens-based duo The Home of Easy Credit has its own twist on free improvisation—that is, spontaneous music with no particular genre in mind—by putting it in various, sometimes unexpected settings with expansive, if confusing elements on its self-titled album. Take for example the opening nine-minute track, “Monolithic Insanity,” which unfurls the twosome’s playing styles: saxophonist Louis Dam Eckardt Jensen, originally from Denmark, whips up a hypnotic mesh of repeated three-note patterns, while bassist Tom Blancarte, from Texas, goes to town with furious string harmonics, gradually rising in intensity and disorder. However, the odd thing about the track is how atmospheric it sounds, with certain qualities of ambient music. Eventually, Jensen adds her wordless siren-song vocals, and the whole bundle is gorgeous, eerie, and unsettling.

The duo doesn’t seem to be concerned with showboating chops or delving into extended techniques to demonstrate a huge range; that doesn’t seem to be the point here. Instead, Blancarte and Jensen seem to be extending the idea of musicianship by using electronic manipulation and recording controls as part of their strategies. For example, Blancarte’s bass taps are magnified using stereo delay panning effects on “The Dream of a Democracy of Goods,” while the album’s enigmatic closing track features Jensen on flute, with delicate sequences that gingerly swell with microphone feedback. Jensen’s vocals provide an uncommon characteristic, like on the disorienting “The Feast of the Meal Replacement Bars,” with echoing snippets of singing with an enunciation that evokes Björk’s elfin weirdness. “A Fireproof House for $5000” provides acoustic noise and bubbling chaos, with Jensen seemingly blowing raspberries while Blancarte tries to sound as ghostly as possible, and more conventionally palatable moments, like the smoky jazz of “The Dream of the Pursuit of Happiness,” have a sinister undercurrent of faint looped vocals. Pushing away from the crowd, The Home of Easy Credit distinguishes itself with its playful, strange, yet sometimes angelic discordance.


July 5, 2012

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