The most powerful free jazz often features extraordinary range. This is somewhat counterintuitive. The genre is most often associated with lengthy aural assaults, interrupted only long enough to flip to side B.
But the ability to separate blasts of freneticism with differently paced sounds, and perhaps even a bit of white space, can turn a good improvisational jazz recording into a great one. Bowlcut’s latest is a fine example.
The trio features Jake Wark on tenor saxophone, Matt Murphy on guitar, electronics and cassette tape and Bill Harris on drum, percussion and a mini-synthesizer/vocoder called the microKORG. Their new disc Semaphore bounces from what-was-that-sound sculpture to breakneck jazz noise and back again over the course of eight superbly intricate tracks.
The album rattles to life, almost literally, with “To Go’s” snake-like intro. Harris’ scattered percussion is joined by Wark’s equally dispersed saxophone and Murphy’s electronics. The two-minute track is not so much an overture to the album as it is a letter of intent.
“Kangaroo Revolt” comes in next, fast and hard. Wark’s sax and Harris’ drums are a devastating combination, delivering the album’s first whiplash moment.
“All Toes, Part 1” turns the volume right back down again. And so goes Semaphore, not exactly bouncing from one extreme to the next. But always on its toes.
The performances are seamless. There are so many wonderfully connected moments between the players over the course of this 40-minute disc. Through all the changes, the three remain fully composed and completely together. Two words you don’t often hear used to describe improvised free jazz.
The album was recorded live in Chicago during 2016 and 2017.