Pollen Trio: 230509

Spartak: No Signal

Previously known as the Austin Benjamin Trio, the newly-christened Pollen Trio, composed of pianist Austin Buckett, double bassist Chris Pound, and drummer Evan Dorrian, tackles six free improvisations on the mini-album 230509 abetted by the “electronic interventions” of Australian sound artist c.s.k.a. (Low Point), the combination of which calls to mind the memorable collaboration between Trisok and Jan Jelinek issued by ~scape a few years ago. 230509's material was recorded in a three-hour session at the Australian National University on a beat-up grand piano and a plenitude of other objects, and signifies an adventurous step forward for the Canberra-based trio in its embrace of outside influences. “Paleburst” hews closest to conventional piano trio traditions in blending waves of piano clusters, tom-tom rolls, and cymbal washes into a bar-breaking pulse that's both insistent and robust. Even here, however, it's apparent the players are determined to stretch the boundaries, and do so even more liberally elsewhere; Dorrian in particular is more Rashied Ali than Elvin Jones, if you get my drift—intent on stoking a wall of percussive sound unconstrained by adherence to a formal tempo—though Buckett too is as prone to building masses as he is etching melodic lines. Elsewhere, “Morning Of” and “Clamp” indulge in the kind of spontaneous skronk one associates with improv, while the double bass takes the lead role in “Syndrome” against a shimmering backdrop of electronics, piano showers, and percussive rambunction.

On the half-hour No Signal, Spartak (label head Shoeb Ahmad on guitar, computer, and woodwinds and Evan Dorrian on drums and percussion ) presents four settings, one recorded live in Singapore in 2007 and three coming from the same sessions that yielded the group's upcoming 2010 release Verona. The mini-album is meant to be heard as a statement of intent for the Spartak concept which is all about sound manipulation, exploiting the studio's potential as an instrument, post-processing techniques, and merging electronics and free improvisation. Experimental notice is definitely served when “In a Field of Light”opens the release with seven minutes of metal clatter underscored by the hum of low-level electronics. Electric guitar shadings and drum flourishes lend “Sleet/Skid” a more natural sound by comparison, though the duo remains resolutely committed to extending the material's experimental character throughout the piece's dozen minutes. Dorrian again proves himself to be a player of some note in serving up a fiery attack that's explosive and inventive at every turn. Ahmed's agitated flute playing shifts the focus in another direction at track's end but it's ultimately most memorable as a showcase for the drummer's considerable talents. “The Distance From Here to Time” finds a mangled sampled voice engaged in an aggressive duel with Dorrian's drums, while “Closure” proves Spartak's eminently capable of dealing out a nightmarish ambient seeting when the mood strikes. No Signal certainly succeeds at establishing Spartak's uncompromising commitment to experimental exploration, a good deal more of which one expects will be tabled when the full album release appears next year.

October 2009