N.R.A.

Untitled
H&H Productions HH-7

Having adopted, no doubt tongue in cheek, the acronym N.R.A. for their combo, the three musicians here show that the initials – taken from the first letters of their last names – can be identified with stirring electro-acoustic sounds. This CD may agitate, excite or anger improv music followers. But unlike the other N.R.A. – the National Rifle Association – it doesn’t advance spurious arguments that sanction violent and allow unstable individuals easy access to weapons with which to kill and maim other people.

The only things maimed here are the latex and rubber balloons Bogotá, Colombia-born, New York-based Ricardo Arias uses as his sound sources. Unlike people who bleed and die, balloons are manufactured to last a short period of time. Considering that Arias’ skill is such that his manipulations produce timbres that not only can resemble percussion, but at times the trills and vibrations of saxophones, you could say the wounded balloons here reach a higher calling for art.

The same exceptional and inimitable techniques go into the definition of other instrumental textures displayed on the eight untitled tracks here. Boston-based cellist Vic Rawlings, who often works in a duo with bassist Mike Bullock, relies on the hissing interface and triggered wave forms available from open-circuit electronics to extend and diffuse the properties of his cello. Very occasionally you may here a sul ponticello thrust or more likely a col legno strike, but the string-like properties of Rawlings’ instrument are subordinated to crossed-wire interference or droning electronic ostinatos that fill out the improvisations’ bottom sections.

By process of elimination, Kobe-born, Easton, Penn-based percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani plays the most conventional instruments here – percussion. But Nakatani, whose dead-on sound layering and rhythmic inventiveness have enlivened dates by French saxophonist Michel Doneda, American trombonist Steve Swell and Israeli-American reedist Assif Tsahar to name three, negates conventional rhythm playing the way the rifle association’s bellicose stance negates logical thinking about firearms. Hocketing, patterning and layering Nakatani’s drum top rubs and ratchets mesh with the siren-like side band modulations from the electronics and the shrill, nearly human falsetto cries or compact percussive sweeps from Arias’ balloon kit.

At points readily identifiable tones such as bell-ringing or cymbal snaps are advanced by the percussionist among the surging hisses and oscillating vibrations of other textures. Yet the cymbals aren’t there for a Bebop ching-ching-ching rhythm, but to measure how singular the reverberations of each unattached items affect the overall sound picture. Most of the time the slippery vibrations and swelling pitch whooshes shift, sequence, appear and vanish without announcing themselves as the properties of any one source.

Intriguing in its experimental program, N.R.A. isn’t an easy or passive listen. Yet the strength of its musical investigation provides an alternate, more palatable and much more life-affirming designation for the N.R.A. abbreviation.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Untitled 1 2. Untitled 2 3. Untitled 3 4. Untitled 4 5. Untitled 5 6. Untitled 6 7. Untitled 7 8. Untitled 8.

Personnel: Ricardo Arias (bass balloon kit); Vic Rawlings (cello and open-circuit electronics); Tatsuya Nakatani (percussion)