Henry Kaiser / Steve Parker / Damon Smith / Chris Cogburn – Nearly Extinct

(Balance Point Acoustics)

For inexplicable reasons this quartet brings us back to the times of youth. The discovery of previously unclassified sounds on a newly acquired album meant afternoons and evenings spent trying to decode its unusual messages, while looking for pseudo-familiar elements to clutch at. We used to feel proud amidst “rock & pop only” specimens who, in our presumptive imagination, could not possibly have a clue about freeform music. Those were the first signs of a life adventure which would warrant enormous satisfactions in terms of real learning — as a practicing musician, sonic explorer and human being at large — but also the beginning of a gradual process culminating in almost complete isolation. Paraphrasing Henry Kaiser (and his then-comrade Fred Frith), with enemies like these who needs friends?

In spite of the record’s title, we’re comforted by a truth: unlabeled improvisation is not extinct at all. In this session, the mix of confidence and experience produced seven tracks of self-denying collective research characterized by voluble environments and less than predictable timbral shifts, with the alluring addition of quieter/droning segments (“Hixkaryána”). Kaiser is still a formidable guitarist when he’s in the right mood, capable of balancing noisy humor and ferocious microtones. Sheer inventiveness expanded by a renowned mastery in the use of effects, frequently connected in implausible chains. In the impossibly titled “Nunatsiavummiutut” this uncontainable energy rides a buzzing harmolodic-like drive generated by the rest of the band; everybody contributes to a top-rank textural dissidence.

Speaking again of single members, Parker is perhaps the one who surprises me the most: his trombone conveys intelligent exuberance and wavering sorrowfulness in unique ways. Smith confirms his willingness to destroy and immediately reconstruct languages on the double bass while maintaining an implicit lyricism, whereas Cogburn remains in control whatever the dynamic circumstance, stepping nonchalantly inside the music’s cooperative administration to mislay the remnants of a pulse that was doomed to disintegration from the outset.