When celebrated musicians reunite — as in this session from 2016 — it’s often difficult to elaborate about the conclave’s outcome. For the circumstance Bruce Ackley (of ROVA renown), Fred Frith and Henry Kaiser were joined by younger and equally gifted Aram Shelton in a meeting of two saxophonists (alto and soprano) and two guitarists (acoustic and electric, Frith doubling at the piano on occasion). The unusual orchestration, however, does not appear to overly influence the mutable palette of Unexpected Twins, occasionally rendered a little “crazier” by Kaiser’s trademark exploitation of bizarre guitar effects. The record’s title and the reunion itself derive from a willingness to revisit the compositional and improvisational essence of Twins, a quartet active in the late 70s originally featuring Eugene Chadbourne and John Zorn with Kaiser and Ackley. That lineup can be heard in Zorn’s “Lacrosse” on the namesake Tzadik release and in the Parachute Years box set.
If the performers’ creative attributes are evidently remarkable, it must be told that the material’s gravity differs from track to track in terms of complexity and consequence. All pieces are structured and credited as single-name compositions except the whimsically collective “Quads”. Not being able to properly study each score, this writer was left alone in the face of the sheer sonic agglomerations, only armed with his own imagination and perceptive skills. Notwithstanding the variety of parameters, the results do not always correspond to genuine momentousness. There are indeed fluctuations, both dynamic and in reactive intensity, that prevent us from calling this album a milestone, a couple of tracks sounding like refined rehearsals (in particular “This Reminds Me” and, in some spots, the rendition of Zorn’s “Curling”). Nevertheless, several moments of intrigue are found, and it’s from those that one takes nourishment. For example “Court Music”, an obliquely linear environment punctuated by piano crystals, sax squeals and abrupt eruptions of pedalboard anarchy. Or “Long Story Short”, instantaneous tensions and constructive dissonance stuffed within 4 minutes and 14 seconds. More episodes of analogous interest are featured, and we’re thrown back into a state of instrumental volatility-induced optimism.