ASAF SIRKIS & THE INNER NOISE

We Are Falling
Konnex KCD 5150

COMBAT ASTRONOMY
The Dematerialised Passenger
Discus 20CD

Reduced to cliché elsewhere, the jazz and improv part of jazz-rock fusion still survives in isolated corners of the music business. In the United Kingdom, one spot is London, another Sheffield, while in the United States there’s St. Paul, Minn. [!]

At least it would seem so on the evidence of these CDs. Israeli-born, London-based drummer Asaf Sirkis has put out the second CD by his Inner Noise trio, which he admits is as influenced as much by Weather Report and Allan Holdsworth as Sun Ra. A continuation of the band’s first CD, WE ARE FALLING differs since Steve Lodder is able to play a special midi keyboard with an organ feel and special keyboard set-up with bass pedals, instead of the church organ used on the band’s debut disc.

The eight Sirkis compositions that share a definite ProgRock feel, depend on their shape from the teamwork among his powerhouse drumming, Lodder’s squeezed and shaped churchy tones and finger-style soloing of guitarist Mike Outram. But heaviness sets in during the program as it appears that an overload of overwrought jazz-rock licks is masking the attempts at pure improv.

Even more aggressively industrially powered, THE DEMATERIALIZED PASSENGER is odder because it achieves these beat-laden effects with unconventional – for fusion – instrumentation. For a start there are no drums – the obvious beats appear to come from the bass guitar, electronics and programming of St. Paul-based James Huggett or the electronics of Sheffield’s Martin Archer.

Archer, whose usual milieu is thick, electronic-invented soundscapes, also plays alto and sopranino saxophones, bass clarinet and violin here, while Huggett also plays guitar. Other members of Combat Astronomy are two other Archer-associated BritImprovisers, Mick Beck on bassoon and Charlie Collins on flute. Here too the sheer brutality of the rhythm – electronically created or otherwise – almost severs any connections to Energy music top which the horns might aspire.

With his trio reconfigured because “not a lot of jazz clubs have a church organ,” admits Sirkis, the Inner Noise CD has enough outer noise on it to satisfy less subtle types. Still, Loddrer’s shimmering pulsations do give some compositions an ecclesiastical feel.

Perhaps the most remarkable facet of WE ARE FALLING is how unobtrusive Sirkis is. Combat Astronomy’s faux percussion pounds more relentlessly than any cross rhythm the live drummer creates. Often moving across the beat for bass drum emphasis or cymbal strokes, he works with a surprising lightness.

If only you could say the same for the others. Outram’s dependence on guitar hero showmanship, ringing distorted single notes, the whammy bar and the effects pedal hasn’t abated from the first CD. As for Lodder, his madrigal-like note sprinkles – or on the final track romantic full-fingered tinkling piano fills– are often superseded by quivering organ-like pulsations. This reaches a crescendo of sorts on the title track when he appears to have overloaded the keys with an upsurge of crashing chords whose genesis is Keith Emerson or E. Power Biggs showmanship, rather than layered Jimmy Smith-like organization. After a gap, the entire CD ends with one minute of fatuous keyboard noodling. Improvisation may be paramount here, but so is excess. Perhaps a rethinking of the concept and new configuration may be in order.

Pile driver, brutal and drone are the words that come to mind when considering the unyielding beat that seems to infect every one of the 10 compositions on the other CD. If Beck is given some space for a raucous bassoon line, for example, then head- banging thrashes and fuzz-tone guitar licks almost bury it. Collins tries out some buzzing and echoing flute tones late on the CD, in triple counterpoint with snorting bassoon and Archer’s melodic bass clarinet, but the percussion barrage becomes overpowering here as well.

Archer’s cross-cutting saxophone trills and tongue slaps plus spittle-encrusted pops bring an avant-garde interface to some tunes, but industrial style and strength guitar reverb triumphs over all else. There are times when the saxophonist’s reed bites almost resemble punker James Chance’s attempts at Free Jazz, but Archer has certainly proven his superiority to Chance many other places.

High octane performances and on a higher level than your average rock-fusion session, both CDs may only appeal to those who are keen on being bludgeoned by improv sounds.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Dematerialised: 1. Greedy Angels 2. Time Stamp 3. Body of Incus 4. Collapsing Runways 5. Orion 6. Sulphur (mercurated) 7. Bad Phaser 8. Serpents 9. The Dematerialised Passenger 10. Solar Guitars

Personnel: Dematerialised: Martin Archer (alto and sopranino saxophones, bass clarinet, violin and electronics); Mick Beck (bassoon); Charlie Collins (flute) and James Huggett (guitar, bass guitar, electronics and programming)

Track Listing: Falling: 1. Another Being 2. Life Itself 3. Galactic Citizen (Part 1) 4. Galactic Citizen (Part 2) 5. We Are Falling 6. The Bottomless Pit Surrounding You 7. Spirit 8. Ida & Dactyl (and Ghost of Dactyl)

Personnel: Falling: Mike Outram (guitars); Steve Lodder (keyboards) and Asaf Sirkis (drums and keyboards)