Arena Ladridos
Another Timbre at35

Standing on its 10-gallon-hat-wearing head the belief that everything coming out of Texas is bigger and louder is this CD of locally recorded minimalism. Committed to leisurely, sometimes ultra-pianissimo, textures, studded with momentary abrasions, the sonic result is as sparse and nebulous as a stretch of the southwestern plain. Appreciation for it demands a preference for the desert over the honky tonk.

Lone Star state patriots may riposte that only one participant, Austin-based percussionist Chris Cogburn is a real Texan. In any case his tough-minded insistence on curating the annual No Idea improvised music festival in his hometown confirms his rugged individualism, supposedly so valued in the West. Cogburn, who also performs with avant-vocalist Liz Tonne and cellist/electronics manipulator Vic Rawlings, has worked with his partners in Arena Ladridos – roughly translated as “Barking Sand” – for about a decade. Both are also now domiciled in states which were either part of, or very friendly to the Confederacy: soprano saxophonist Bhob Rainey, best known for the Nmperign duo with trumpeter Greg Kelly, is in New Orleans; and Bonnie Jones, an electronic musician, who has played with other sound explorers such as inside piano specialist Andrea Neumann and cellist Audrey Chen, lives in Baltimore.

Consisting of two tracks of over 20-minutes each, recorded in different Texas cities, the languid interface that makes up Arena Ladridos is blurry, austere and opaque enough so that the different instruments’ distinguishing characteristics are muted and nearly negated. “Govalle” and “Marfa” – definitions unknown – demonstrate sound masking and manipulation not linear narratives.

On “Govalle” for instance, a characteristic reed tone doesn’t arrive until about one-third of the way through. And even then it’s framed within a sequence of singular mouth buzzes and interrupted multiphonics as well as swathed in whooshing electronic twitters, chalk-on-blackboard screeches and percussive rolls on abrasive surfaces. Circling pops and fissures resonate and rotate alongside crackling static, with restricted flanges and signal-processing adding to the grisaille. Popped ruffs and vibraharp-like reverberations plus granular pulsations are also as infrequently identifiable among the constantly churning sound loops. Eventually though, the performance escalates to encompass fortissimo aviary squeals. Although this timbral excess is audible for a time, by the final variant it too has vanished into silence.

“Marfa” too drains slowly into stillness at its finale, with an equivalent series of loud oscillating drones apparent during its middle section. However the parts are delineated a bit more as what sounds like jackhammer drilling, the clink of knitting needles against glass, plus reed honks and flat-line respiration can be isolated. Here bubbling electronic impulses expand to fill in the spaces around twittering squeals and caws from the soprano sax, until pedal-point drones that are as jagged as they are fortissimo take over. Just as abruptly these evaporate, replaced by an intermezzo that’s equal parts faint machine-like oscillations, hippo-like yawns from the bottom of the saxophonist’s range, plus drum-stick-across-cymbal-top shrills and what could be marbles ricocheting along the ground.

Unlikely to be confused with sounds produced by other well-known Texan musicians like Johnny Winter, T-Bone Walker – or even Ornette Coleman – Arena Ladridos proves that unfathomable musical impulses exist in the most unexpected locations.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Govalle 2. Marfa

Personnel: Bhob Rainey (soprano saxophone); Chris Cogburn (percussion) and Bonnie Jones (electronics)