Bastion: Bastion

Greg Malcolm: Leather and Lacy

Two new Interregnum releases uphold the Norwegian-based label's reputation for uncompromising experimental music, the first a set of black-metal drones and the second a collection of live interpretations of Steve Lacey compositions by guitarist Greg Malcolm.

Italian duo Bastion's self-titled debut album unites the talents of Valerio Cosi, a twenty-three-year-old saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist devoted to psychedelic rock, free-jazz, and electronic mayhem, and Giardini di Mirò guitarist Jukka Reverberi (with Bastion—the word defined as “a fortified place”—characterized as “a concept of distance,” the two have never met in person or spoken with one another). “OHM” sets the tone with a nine-minute drone whose ripples and shudders grow into an oily black, fire-breathing colossus. That in turn segues into the harrowing “69, Blau und Weiss” whose nightmarish howls and scrapes plunge the listener even deeper into the abyss. Guitars wail like anguished souls for nine minutes while lashing sounds suggest a torture session in full swing. Cosi's tenor saxophone then writhes amidst the chaotic convulsions of “Dancing Bones,” after which the fifteen-minute “Red Star” escalates from a restrained beginning of ghostly moans and crackling noise into a discombobulating screech of woozy dronescaping, saxophone streams, metallic guitar layers, and drunken voices (brace yourself for the eardrum-shattering close). Interestingly, Reverberi doesn't contribute guitar playing to the album but is instead credited with voices, toy microphones, electronics, manipulated sounds, and white noise, indicating how far removed Bastion's sound is from Giardini di Mirò's (Cosi plays saxophone, guitar, electronics, and synthesizers on the album).

Malcolm's Leather And Lacy hardly replicates the jazz style associated with the late soprano sax icon and renowned Monk interpreter Steve Lacy but is nonetheless well worth checking out. The experimental folk musician brings a rather iconoclastic approach to the guitar: he's known for playing three guitars at the same time, one with each foot and one played in the conventional way in his lap, and that's exactly how he performs the seven pieces on this solo set recorded at the Wellington Jazz Festival in 2006 (his sixth solo album in thirteen years). In combining acoustic folk playing and bleeding, free-form electric noise, Malcolm brings a healthy yet respectful irreverence to his interpretations while also remaining true to the adventurous spirit of the originals. (Invited to perform at the festival by Jeff Henderson, Malcolm felt he should present a set with some discernible connection to jazz, hence the decision to perform Lacy tunes, but the concern turned out to be unnecessary as the festival included other performers with equally tangential connections to jazz such as Birchville Cat Motel and Robin Fox.) Lacy's pieces don't get lost in the experimental shuffle, however, as the compositions' themes are typically clearly enunciated, even when wrapped in abstract fuzz. During “Art,” graceful plucking of the ponderous theme can be heard amidst squirrel-like ambient noise and static-drenched eruptions, while “Ducks” begins with what resembles whale calls and the sleeping sounds of a large animal before the tune's graceful melodies move into the spotlight. Though many of these low-key pieces are grounded by plodding funereal rhythms (the ponderous “Prayer” and “The Crust,” which marries banjo-like plucking with a fuzz-toned drone), both Malcolm and the audience clearly enjoyed themselves, if the laughter heard near the end of “The Crust” can be taken for reliable evidence.

February 2009