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16 DEADLY IMPROVS The Triumph Of The 16 Deadly Improvs Rosemont RRCD67 (2011)

16 Deadly Improvs

'The Triumph of the 16 Deadly Improvs' is an adventurous yet frustrating album full of quirky twists and turns that draw you into the moments of real inspiration and then turn you away again with some contrasting dirgy musical dead ends. And therein is the Achilles heel of an improv album like this. If you enter a studio without pre planning, structured songs, let alone charts, then there are always going to be some rough edges and seat of the pants moments when the ensemble either glides or hits a brick wall. Of course such is the musical prowess of this band that the latter rarely happens, only occasionally manifesting itself in one vocal line or keyboard drone too many

And yes, there's an organic feel that anchors the project that the liner notes tell us is 'The 5th instalment in an ongoing series'. And as the band lock into the dirgy feel of 'Into Another Time', the piece develops from a spoken verse and an almost lounge feel to make its way towards a hymnal ending coached in guitar reverb.

It's tempting to say that everything is routed in Dave Wilson's drumming, but that would be to ignore the fact that band members frequently swap instruments. In this case the drumming is shared by Gene Bohensky who also plays keyboards on six tracks. Overall the album nudges itself in the direction of fractured rock, ambient music, heavy prog rock, layered keyboards, the use of judicious samples and an ever present rhythmic pulse. By the time of the impressive but not altogether original 'Death To Disco' the band almost sail into Space Rock with a trademark dirt sounding Zappa guitar solo to boot.

Curiously while on the subject of disco hating dudes, no sooner do they hit the heights on 'Death to Disco' when they add a 1959 sample to a basic dance track, the very thing they apparently decried on the preceding track.

But it's a minor inconsistency in an ocean of complex musical tensions that push a groove, a riff, a motif and even a disguised dance beat to the limit before the band cleverly twists the basic idea into something else. And that is their oeuvre, nothing is quite what it seems on a journey that opens with a cacophonous bombastic rumble and explores a heavily disguised linear movement that is coloured by prog rock progressions on the Floydian 'Spirit or Matter'. There's also a real ambient feel on both 'Torpedo' and the sonorous 'Rise of the Septopi' as well as the Eno/Fripp influenced 'The Burrowers Beneath'. The latter is a slow moving amoeba that relies wholly on an atmospheric tension that stands at odds with everything that has gone before, but works so well simply because of the startling contrast.

In between the shifting musical styles there a few near misses, notably on the Crimson influenced but ultimately underwhelming 'Invincible Pole Fighters, and the closest they get to thematic development on the choral feel of 'Gargantua'

Surprisingly perhaps the best stuff comes in the final quarter of the album, almost as if having explored the myriad possibilities of improvisation they've settled on a workable equilibrium. That said, 'Sand Palm V' opens with a heavy staccato drum led crescendo as part of an almost impenetrable slice of heavy spontaneity. There's also a looped 2009 voice collage sample and a metal riff freak out on a number that genuinely feels like the band have taken their combined musical elements to the edge. It is left to the following spiralling guitars and wah wah of 'You'd Make A Lot of Money' to demonstrate what happens when it all comes together and the band can breathe as one.

The final hard driving buzz guitar on 'Sand PalmVI' sounds like a chain saw cutting through a tree to usher in a dramatic tension building finale. Even improv it seems recognises a chequered flag when it sees one.


Review by Pete Feenstra

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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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