Vladislav Delay Quartet: Vladislav Delay Quartet
Honest Jon's Records

Fresh from his percussive contributions to the recent Moritz Von Oswald Trio recording Horizontal Structures, Finnish producer Sasu Ripatti (aka Vladislav Delay, Luomo, Sistol, Uusitalo) presents what might be his most challenging project to date, one that sees him operating as a drummer and percussionist in concert with double bassist Derek Shirley, bass clarinetist/saxophonist Lucio Capece, and one-time Pan Sonic member Mika Vainio on electronics and live processing. Recorded in one week at the former Radio Yugoslavia studios in Belgrade and then mixed and produced by Ripatti himself, the album covers a good range of stylistic ground and proves to be all the more satisfying for doing so. While there are aggressive pieces (the opener “Minus Degrees, Bare Feet, Tickles” is one particularly hellacious example, though “Des Abends” isn't far behind in that department), there are contrasts too, with each of its eight tracks exploring slightly different territory. Despite such differences, the album as a whole locates itself at the intersection of various musics: it's neither free jazz, noise, improv, nor electronica but rather some raw, electroacoustic hybrid of all four.

“Minus Degrees, Bare Feet, Tickles” resembles what some mythic monstrosity might sound like opening its jaws to unleash a torrent of brutal noise. Halfway through the eight-minute piece, the musicians' individuating sounds gradually come into partial focus as they try to extricate themselves from an undertow that one presumes can largely be credited to Vainio, with Ripatti's percussive sounds and the high-pitched cry of Capece's sax audible but barely so. Shirley's woodsy bass notes form a steadying anchor during the much subtler “Santa Teresa,” which in turn allows Ripatti to play more freely and adopt a colouristic role and Capece and Vainio to likewise apply themselves in a more painterly manner; Shirley performs a similar role in the subsequent piece, “Des Abends,” which again gives the others ample room to maneuver. “Killing the Water Bed” flirts with conventional jazz in having Shirley and Ripatti initiate the track in freeform, bluesy mode and then adding Capece's soprano sax to the mix, but the second half, with Vainio's interventions the possible catalyst, sees the group's playing pulled into a wildly cacophanous zone. The low-end electronic pulsations grinding their way through “Hohtokivi” can't help but suggest Pan Sonic, and so too do the track's sheets of squealing electronic sound. Near album's end, two shorter pieces find the group exploring funereal noir jazz (“Presentiment”) and atmospheric dirgescaping (“Salt Flat”).

The firestorms started by Delay and his colleagues on the album call to mind the volcanic sound associated with Last Exit, an '80s outfit featuring bassist Bill Laswell, drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson, saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, and the late guitarist Sonny Sharrock. Certainly no one'll criticize Delay for having played it safe in the new project, and neither could anyone imagine hearing the music described as overly polite or background listening. If Vladislav Delay Quartet isn't a terribly bold or provocative choice for either the group name or album title, the material itself more than makes up for it.

June 2011