The Underflow - Instant Opaque Evening

The Free Jazz Collective 90

By Eyal Haeruveni

The sophomore album of the über-trio The Underflow - Swedish sax titan Mats Gusataffson and American guitarist David Grubbs and trumpeter (and visual artist who created the cover artwork) Rob Mazurek, Instant Opaque Evening, was recorded live during January 2020 shows in France, Belgium, Italy, and Poland, seven months after the recording of the self-titled debut album (Corbett vs. Dempsey/Underflow Records, 2019). The almost ninety minutes of the new, epic album testify best about the great creative power of this trio, when it explores spontaneous improvisations or when it dives into and out of Grubbs’ poetic texts.

Gustafsson, Grubbs and Mazurek need no introduction. These masters of experimental, free-improvisation collaborated briefly already in the nineties when Gustafsson and Mazurek guested in Grubbs’ Gastr del Sol albums (Upgrade & Afterlife and Camoufleur, Drag City, 1996 and 1998). Shortly thereafter Gustafsson and Grubbs recorded two albums (Apertura and Off-Road, Blue Chopsticks, 1999 and 2003). The Underflow has already established a wide sonic palette on its debut album, ranging from free jazz and abstract electronics to noise and post-rock, and suggesting rare performances by Gustafsson on flute (his first instrument), in addition to the flutephone and the baritone sax. Mazurk adds to the trumpet, wooden flute, percussion. Grubbs sings some of his songs.

Instant Opaque Evening surprises with its lyrical, contemplating tone, in relation to the debut album of The Underflow and certainly in comparison to Gustafsson’s recent projects - Fire!, The End or Anguish. Gustafsson plays the baritone sax and electronics on the opening 17-minutes title-piece with great restraint and focuses on detail, echoing the effects-laden resonant guitar of Grubbs and the floating, elegiac trumpet of Mazurek. Even in its most abstract noisy parts, this piece keeps its reserved atmosphere does not seek to reach a cathartic climax. Gustafsson’s playing on the flute on “Planks” and “Purple Laquer Portal” is even more revelatory, introducing gentle, kind of chamber folk veins into these soundscapes, and taking the seminal influence of Don Cherry but drowning it on the latter piece in a stormy sea of electronics..

Mazurek’s wordless voice reverberates beautifully in Gustafsson’s flute playing on the sparse and intimate “A Thin Eternity”. The following “Not at My Funeral” relies on extended breathing techniques of Gustafsson, Mazurek’s natural gift to articulate instant melodies and Grubbs’ subtle, guitar lines, and deepens the restrained, dark and mysterious tone of the album so far. Mazurek’s effects-laden trumpet, and later his wooden flute, set the unsettling tone of “Sound of a Wet Leather Ball”, disturbed later on by raw noises. The 14-minutes “Self-Portrait as Interference Pattern” is the only piece where The Underflow goes into extreme, sonic terrains, with apocalyptic, raw and noisy layers of electronics that even the brief trumpet cries of Mazurek can not pierce, but eventually, even this piece settles on a lyrical, fragile mode.

Grubbs sings three songs. The previously recorded “An Optimist Declines” and “Gethsemani Night” (from An Optimist Notes The Dark, Drag City, 2008) and the moving, last piece on this album, “Cooler Side of the Pillow”. He recites-sings the poetic lyrics with a voice that is openly vulnerable, accompanied by his distorted guitar sounds, Gustafsson’s sax wails and Mazurek’s atmospheric trumpet, all serve brilliantly the suggestive, dramatic lyrics.

A beautiful gem. Each listening reveals more and more nuances of the unique free space that The Undeflow explored on stage.

Instant Opaque Evening by The Underflow

Wed Jan 20 05:00:00 GMT 2021

The Free Jazz Collective 80

By Sammy Stein

Underflow is a trio comprising Mats Gustafsson, David Grubbs and Rob Mazurek . Instant Opaque Evening is a double vinyl release and the follow up to their self-titled 2019 debut (Corbett vs Dempsey/Underflow Records). The recordings are taken from intensely focused live performances from January 2020 shows in France, Belgium, Italy, and Poland. The group enjoyed the freedom of surprising one another in different ways each evening. It works, and the material includes long instrumental improvisations and shorter works with the trio interacting as a whole. 'Instant Opaque Evening' conveys this broad sweep, from the full-tilt electronics of 'Self-Portrait as Interference Pattern' and the climax of the seventeen-minute 'Instant Opaque Evening' to the inspired, alternate universe chamber music of 'Planks' and 'A Thin Eternity'. The trio also recorded spontaneous arrangements of three previously recorded songs by Grubbs, 'Gethsemani Night', 'An Optimist Declines', and 'Cooler Side of the Pillow.'

The trio met in Chicago during the latter 1990s where they were individually participating in different events of free improvisation, experimental rock, and more. Gustafsson and Mazurek appeared as guests on Grubb's collaboration, Gastr del Sol albums Upgrade & Afterlife and Camoufleur respectively). Shortly after this, Grubbs and Gustafsson recorded two duo albums, including Apertura.

David Grubbs has played with Gastr del Sol, the Red Krayola, Squirrel Bait, Tony Conrad, Susan Howe, Pauline Oliveros, Will Oldham, and many others. He's the author of books The Voice in the Headphones, Now That The Audience is Assembled, and Records Ruin the Landscape.

Mats Gustafsson, is an improviser, composer and solo artist and has performed alongside Sonic Youth, Merzbow, Jim O'Rourke, Barry Guy, Otomo Yoshihide, Yoshimi, Peter Brötzmann, Neneh Cherry, Christian Marclay, Albert Oehlen, Ken Vandermark and the working groups FIRE!, THE END, LUFT, ANGUISH, and Gush as well as collaborations with contemporary dance, theatre, art, poetry, and projects with noise.

Rob Mazurek is a multidisciplinary artist focusing on electroacoustic composition, improvisation, performance, painting, sculpture, video, film, and installation. He spent much of his creative life in Chicago, then Brazil and currently lives and works in Marfa, Texas. He leads/co-leads ensembles of various sizes and shapes including his flagship large ensemble Exploding Star Orchestra, Chicago Underground and São Paulo Underground. He has collaborated with Bill Dixon, Pharoah Sanders, Roscoe Mitchell, Jeff Parker, Nicole Mitchell, Chad Taylor, Jim O'Rourke, Naná Vasconcelos, and many others.

'Instant Opaque Evening' sets out the recording credentials and is an exploratory number with a quiet start before developing into a series of interwoven lyrical meanders, with breathy sax and well placed electronic interludes. There is a sense of evolution as the piece progresses and the players interact with ever-increasing complexity and expansion, picking up on each others' musical ideas, interspersing their own. There is a slightly uncomfortable introduction of electronically enhanced sonorous tones over which the trio improvise and explore. The vocal effects add emphasis and atmosphere to the almost seventeen-minute long track.

'Planks' is ethereal and intense, whilst 'An Optimist Declines' is rich, heavy and the vocals are sung over chordal lines that weave into each other, with the sax emerging as a voice from a different origin. There is a Celtic feel as the sax and guitar create almost a bag-pipe sounding collision with the extended notes of the sax hanging over the guitar chords. It is both noisy and a delight.

'Self Portrait As Interference Pattern' is a crazy, constantly morphing track with reverberant, chordal guitar lines over which the brass and wood weave, rise and fall. The central section has trumpet soaring across the top in a frenzy of melodies before an almost static interlude on a single guitar note before the others join. The sax takes on a melody over a steely guitar before all goes quiet. A beautiful lyricism evolves to close - well almost. There is a nearly unnecessary ( but also rather lovely) explosion of noise at the very end.

' A Thin Eternity' is light, with 'Silencio' repeated in hushed voice over and over again at the start creating a sense of relaxing into the music. It works with flute and stut sax notes gently working their way into the senses, with deep intakes of breath clearly heard before the flute begins to play ever more complex phrases and the sax responds with emotion-filled notes and cries. The flute solos and there is calm, into which chords work their way gently but defiantly, creating a sense of gentle descent into nothingness.

'Not At My Funeral' is interesting for its experimental elements over intricate and varied rhythmic patterns before the trumpet soars across the top. The track develops over a series of notes that the sax holds, the guitar adding its flickering rhythms. 'Sound Of A Wet Leather Ball' begins with a delightful trumpet introduction, followed by constructed mayhem from sax, trumpet and later guitar. The wavering, loose-lipped sax interlude interjects an almost comical note and, given the title, that wet leather ball comes into mind, the image quickly chased away as the track develops into a rhythmic, pounding, powerful number which is both relentless and mesmeric. The sudden dropping out of the pounding rhythm in the final section serves both as a surprise and an encouragement to listen deeper.

'Gethsemani Night' is a song with lyrical vocals and well-structured support, showing a different side to this trio and again, there is an almost Celtic feel to the number. 'Purple Laquer Portal' begins with beautiful flute, interspersed with loud intakes of breaths and occasional shouts that take away any sense of calm before these decline and the flute tenderly sighs over the top of the other sounds which develop and envelop the number. In the second half, the sound switches to reverberating noise over a variety of rhythmic patterns. A series of sounds and stops adds a sense of excitement and menace, which, though present, never emerges in full and is negated by the final bars — a complex and intriguing number.

The closing track 'Cooler Side Of The Pillow' is a lyrical ballad and again demonstrates this trios ability to switch from experimental to a constructed format and there is naturally a switch form lyrical ballad to experimental improvisation.

This recording is both experimental yet shows the development of the relationships between the three musicians and their reading of each others' styles. A good listen and further testament to the fact that music works when you get the right combination of musicians.

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Tue Jan 19 10:16:00 GMT 2021