Jefrey Leighton Brown: Change Has Got to Come!
Community Library

Christmas Decorations: Communal Rust
Community Library

Project Perfect: PM+
Community Library

Reanimator: Special Powers
Community Library

A few years ago, Paul Dickow inaugurated Community Library with his World House single and the choice has proved prophetic for the label's subsequent catalogue. The four full-lengths spotlighted here neatly symbolize the label's breadth, with Reanimator, Project Perfect, Christmas Decorations, and Jefrey Leighton Brown offering provocative forays into krautrock, spacey experimentation, electronic moodscaping, and avant-jazz blowing. It's worth noting too that, though all four draw upon long-established traditions, they remain eminently fertile wellsprings.

Though Reanimator's music suggests kinship with Pan Sonic, Special Powers' combination of primitive electronic sputter and crude drum machines comes across like a krautrock mix of pre-Autobahn Kraftwerk, Faust, and Stockhausen. Reanimator recorded the material live to two-track without the aid of computer in 2000 in Portland, and the music's 'crudity' turns out to be a key part of its charm. Lacking the sanitized perfection of modern-day production techniques, Special Powers' aesthetic sensibility has more in common with early dub than sleek techno. Certainly there's nothing sterile and overly clinical about the swinging opener “Clicks and Drones May...” when it shuffles determinedly through a thicket of signal flares and bass rumble, and the subsequent tracks' polyrhythmic exhalations heave and stumble just as forcefully. Much of the album is comprised of stark, minimal explorations like “Eat the Magic Toast” and “Blown Subidah” where creaky drum machines, test-tone oscillators, samplers, and delay pedals lay down a bruising brand of electro-funk that throbs and wobbles obsessively, and on robust settings like “Phase Constellation/Diskombah,” Reanimator's music exudes a vitality that clearly distances it from Pan Sonic's far more contained and colder style.

PM+ (which adds five 2003 tracks to the ten of the 2002 ‘lost' release PM, a privately-released disc that was never heard beyond a small circle of listeners) is the brainchild of Project Perfect, a Portland outfit comprised of ex-Fontanelle members Andy Brown (synth, electric piano, drum machine) and Charlie Smyth (guitar, radio) and that was most active from 2001-04. PM+ often resembles the kind of deep space experiments Miles Davis (in tandem with Teo Macero) buried in the middle of sprawling double-sets like Big Fun or Get Up With It. Curdling, atonal guitar textures collide with mutant strains of electronic noise and random radio interjections in these often lugubrious, slow-motion improvisations, with Brown and Smyth showing a near-telepathic sense of purpose as they dig through the remains of multiple underground genres. The compelling results offer a mix of contradictions: the duo's tracks are hermetic and expansive, accessible and alienating, melodic and atonal, and structured and meandering. They indulge in alien experimentation most of the time (“Furniture of Water”) yet also squeeze in a few conventionally arranged exchanges between guitar and keyboards (“Closing Credits”). The lumbering backbeat in “The Massive Lawn” even hints at dub, though it's easy to miss when electronic shards swarm so intensively overhead, and “The Stop Stops Here” ends the album with a graceful moment or two of folk delicacy.

Christmas Decorations (Steve Silverstein and Nick Forte) brings a provocative voice to the electronic moodscaping genre, much of it due to the unusual combination of instruments the duo works into its arrangements (opener “Upstage the Drips,” for instance, appears to be built from delicate guitar strums, slide guitar swoops, and harmonica accents, with all of it buried under chattering noises and creaks). Though the group's material is largely guitar-oriented, Communal Rust's nine pieces are fractured into neo-expressionistic configurations via a mutant sound design sensibility. A given piece sometimes sounds like multiple settings stitched together; a melancholic stream runs through “Twig Harpoon,” for example, but it's filtered through the incessant chatter of noise and interference. A softly jubilant guitar setting can be heard at the core of “Aphid Text” but it's likewise smothered in dense smears of grime, pops, and static. The disc's more tumultuous settings (“Browning Out,” “Clay Margins”) focus even more obsessively on exploiting the sonic extremes of the guitar, with Silverstein and Forte wrenching distorted splinters from the heavily-treated instrument. In this context, the guitar's conventional melodic and soloistic roles are rejected in favour of a more textural handling. One might describe Communal Rust as a beatless blend of Mouse On Mars at its most adventurous with the hazy six-string experimentalism of Fennesz and noise sculpting of Oval.

On his robust debut CD Change Has Got To Come!, Evolutionary Jass Band member Jefrey Leighton Brown revives fond memories of Coltrane's modal period, Ayler's vinegary whine and cry, and even indulges in some Henry Threadgill-styled vocal-jazz experimentation. The worshipful title of the opener “Devotion” explicitly connects Brown to A Love Supreme but his impassioned free blowing does so even more. Here and elsewhere, Brown wails in an urgent, avant-jazz style that sounds like it's roaring forth from some SoHo loft (the album's natural ambiance isn't contrived as it was recorded in his basement over a number of years). “Ain't No Such Thing as What If... ” wends in a bluesy, Easterly direction, Barry Hampton pushing the laconic groove along and dropping well-timed bombs in classic Elvin Jones fashion as Brown's baritone snakes its way searchingly alongside vibes accents. Opening with a powerful baritone honk, “1968” develops into a ponderous, multi-tracked horn meditation with Brown acting as a one-man World Saxophone Quartet, while the ten-minute “Floatin' on a Cloud of WHAT?” affords the group a chance to stretch out and allows Hampton a well-deserved moment in the spotlight. Highlighted by a wonderful multi-tiered horn backing for Daphna Rivah Kohn's desperate vocal, “October” unfolds as a balladic dirge intent on channeling dead spirits. Set closer “Change Has Got to Come!” brings a marvelous full-bodied horn arrangement to its loose blues groove but it's the screaming coda that speaks loudest. Brown enriches the basic jazz trio sound with eclectic instruments like vibes, sitar, and guitar but the album's glorious focal point remains, of course, the saxophone. (Wynton who?)

Having to choose a favourite from the four seems wrongheaded, given how different they are from one another, though I'll admit to having a soft spot for Change Has Got To Come! on account of its connection to the rebellious spirit of ‘60s free jazz. What's most worth celebrating is the risky adventurousness symbolized by the four recordings in particular and the Community Library imprint in general.

May 2007