Just when I thought I'd heard the extent of Spring Heel Jack's more experimental side (on their Oddities release), along comes this release completely out-of-the-dark and blows that conception out of the water. Not only is this a very experimental release for the group, but for everyone involved (including lots of Thirty Ears musicians from their jazz Blue Series). Conceived as sort of a "new convention to strip away old conventions" by Peter Gordon of Thirsty Ear, it's sort of a breaking down of any real preset definitions of the genre. Is it post-jazz, noise-jazz, or one big free-for all? Even having listened to the release several times, I still really have no idea, and that's probably the point.
Instruments played on the release include alto, tenor, and baritone sax, drums, trumpet, flute, violins, viola, double bass, piano, and all kinds of other things, and are played by everyone from Matthew Shipp (of the trio by the same name), Guillermo Brow, Roy Campbell, and Tim Berne. Although the release falls under the name Spring Heel Jack, though, this isn't anything near what the group has done before. Credited with producing the album and playing "all other instruments" that aren't listed on the back of the disc (things I listed above as "all kinds of other things"), the duo doesn't make themselves known with their usual drum and bass beats, yet rather with random percussion and the occassional programming. Sound confusing? It is.
The first track on the release is actually probably a bad one to start with since it's the most meandering piece on the entire disc. "Chorale" lingers for almost 10 minutes with little tinklings of piano and some plucks of the upright bass while a lonely saxophone wails once in awhile. The entire track is held together with some scratchy noise and very base electronics that give the rest of the instruments sort of an eerie, unnatural feel. Shaking off the cobwebs is the second track, though. "Chiaroscuro" twangs with what sounds like the electric viola (or perhaps a combination of that and a somewhat abrasive rhythm that Ashley and Wales of Spring Heel Jack have put together). Over this repetitve and relenting march, a saxophone goes absolutely crazy. During a couple points, some drums come into the mix and crash away, along with some strings and create some nice dissonance.
Of course, the few loud moments in that track are completely put to shame by the title track of the release. Although "Masses" starts out nice enough with quiet bits of piano and drums mingling over some other ragged percussion, they eventually climax into an absolutely frenzy about halfway through the track. Although probably not for purists, the noise-summit will have fans of the sound absolutely gushing. One of the most structured pieces on the release is also the most successful. Although it never quite falls into "song" format, the sixth track of "Salt" captures all the furious energy of the project into a sweet five-minute bundle. After a short opening squall of sound, things take off at a furious pace and never really let up. The piano sounds like it's being stabbed-at, while the rhythm section rolls and undulates under some spastic horns. It's loud and a bit on the freakout side, but quite, quite good.
In all the ways that the previous loud track was effective, the closing track of "Coda" also works quite well. The electronic droning sounds are a bit more prominent than they are on most of the rest of the album, and the odd horn bursts make it a fitting (if a bit unnerving) closing track to the release. As mentioned above, I'm not sure why this release is being filed under Spring Heel Jack, as their contribution isn't really much more than any of the other players on the release. It's definitely nothing like their usual releases, although it's not really hard to make the connection given some of their dabbling and experimentation into the genre in the past. Don't expect jazz, and don't expect beats, but do know that it will challenge your listening a bit and possibly frustrate you a bit as well. Still, it's a very interesting release, and one that should be heard by fans of either genre.