Jazz CD Reviews

Plymouth – Plymouth [TrackList follows] – RareNoise

Plymouth takes you to a place of free jazz and avant-garde improvisation.

Published on July 1, 2014

Plymouth – Plymouth [TrackList follows] – RareNoise

Plymouth – Plymouth [TrackList follows] – RareNoise RNR040, 61:57 [4/7/14] ***1/2:

(Jamie Salt – organs, Echoplex piano, Fender Rhodes, co-producer, engineer, mixer; Joe Morris – electric guitar, co-producer; Chris Lightcap – electric bass; Gerald Cleaver – drums; Mary Halvorson – electric guitar)

The name Plymouth evokes discovery and freedom. In American history, Plymouth Colony was established by Pilgrims fleeing religious persecution in England, and was one of the earliest successful colonies founded in North America by English-speaking settlers. Plymouth is also an explorative and nonconformist ensemble which spins out extensive avant-garde, free-jazz improvisations. Keyboardist Jamie Saft (whose résumé includes Bobby Previte and John Zorn) and versatile guitarist Joe Morris collaborated on Plymouth’s 2013 Slobber Pup project, and this year the two friends have reunited for yet another heady and challenging offering, a self-titled effort which features Salt on organs, Echoplex piano and Fender Rhodes; Morris on electric guitar; and three guests: electric bassist Chris Lightcap (who has worked with Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor and Archie Shepp), drummer Gerald Cleaver (who has been active with Roscoe Mitchell, David Torn and more), and up-and-coming electric guitarist Mary Halvorson. Cleaver and Lightcap previously performed in Morris’ quartet, while Halvorson is Morris’ former student. Thus, the group’s interaction and communication is formidable. Plymouth’s latest sojourn into free improv was issued as a CD digipak, a single 180-gram vinyl LP and in multiple digital formats. This review refers to the single CD release.

The hour-long album contains three aural excursions which vary from meditative to nightmare-like ferocity, characterized by musically associative leaps which defy categorization or traditional musical structures. None of the three extended pieces are commonplace or tidily self-determined. The twenty-minute opener, “Manomet,” (named after a seaside village of Plymouth, Massachusetts) is a smoldering mixture of free jazz and noise-rock. The sprawling track agitates around Saft’s aggressive B-3 organ, and Morris and Halvorson’s disorientating and often distorted guitars. The overall feeling is vague anxiety, a potential threat on the horizon and apprehensive tension. Lightcap and Cleaver’s rhythms don’t present any semblance of relief. The drums and bass skitter and spike as much as the other instruments. The amount of digitized fuzz accelerates at the conclusion, as Lightcap runs his hollow-body electric bass through a fuzz pedal; Salt increases his organ’s warped sonic sound; and the dueling guitars become lathered in a dense auditory disfigurement.

The pressure temporarily ratchets down on the 13-minute “Plimouth,” where the intensity isn’t quite so unrelenting. At the onset, the quintet develops textures and pocket-sized digressions into recognizable melodic themes. Although listeners won’t be humming this tune, there are slices of standardization. By the end, though, “Plimouth” enters heavy-metal territory, with guitars, organs, piano and drums clashing out a voracious quality closer to Metallica than, for instance, Miles Davis in his electric years.

The final, 29-minute epic, “Standish,” (presumably titled after famed Plymouth Colony administrator Myles Standish) is a fearless, flexible foray. “Standish” combines quieter moments of ambient landscaping alongside deafening outbursts. Saft puts forward note-bending exercises in response to Halvorson’s coiled coloring. Lightcap keeps the bottom end fluid with drifting bass lines which bounce away from Cleaver’s running-amok drum fills, cymbal smacks and tom-tom eruptions. The B-3 organ swells up as both guitarists solo together as one unit, in effect making a multi-limbed, 2 x 6-string guitar monster. The raucous jam slows briefly near the 17-minute mark, and Salt switches to his Echoplex piano. This random respite gives the fivesome time to restock their idea-generating trunk, and in due course the quintet revives with a revitalized outlook which includes staccato guitar lines, overlapping organ flourishes and edgy drumming. “Standish” closes with Saft’s spiraling organ solo, where he’s supported by Lightcap and Cleaver’s intuitively observant and equally fiery rhythmic vigor. This kind of extreme, spontaneous rock-jazz is not for everyone. It stands halfway between Cecil Taylor’s chiseled pianistic concentration and Frank Zappa’s incendiary rock-based solo guitar sorties. That’s not a comfortable space for some listeners, but if one is inclined to such unconventional terrain, Plymouth is a great place to visit.

TrackList: Manomet; Plimouth; Standish

—Doug Simpson




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