Rhys Chatham

Outdoor Spell
Northern Spy NSCD 004

By Ken Waxman

Categorically consecrated to using electronics and extended techniques to process ritualistic and meditative textures from the trumpet, Outdoor Spell is both a departure and continuation for Rhys Chatham. (In) famous for his hundred-strong guitar orchestra compositions whose crushing drones shatter the boundaries between no-wave noise and post-minimalism, the New Yorker turned Parisian is in a more contemplative mood here, playing solo trumpet on two tracks and partnered on two others. It’s a confirmation of his trumpet prowess following a few years of neglecting the instrument for the guitar.

Using his own vocal drones as counterpoint to his brass tones, Chatham’s lines appear to float suspended in the air, as overdubbed melismatic chants vibrate alongside tremolo brass samples, gradually liquefying into one another. A track such as “Crossing the Sword Bridge of the Abyss” takes technique even further, as blurred and doubled brass tones ranging from pedal-point farts to aviary shrills occasionally pierce the primordial sonic goo constructed from stacked and melded electronic static, hurdy-gurdy-like swells and granular wave forms. As staccato shrills move to the foreground, the mass choir-like drone makes room to highlight the trumpet’s horks and hockets.

Although he cites Jon Hassell and Don Cherry as influences, the latter’s bluesy subtlety and quicksilver improvisational strategies aren’t evident, even when Chatham guffawing horn is matched with Native-Indian-like thumps from Beatriz Rojas’s cajón or chiming strums from Jean-Marc Montera’s guitar and stentorian press rolls from drummer Kevin Shea. “The Magician” provides the best context for Chatham’s swift flutter tonguing and rubato slurs. As Shea’s ruffs and cymbal shakes vibrate sympathetically, smacked guitar strings and distorted amp buzzes evolve in tandem with chromatic trumpet tones. Never intersecting, the individual brass and string output become nearly indistinguishable by the finale.

Improvised music, although likely not jazz – whatever that is – this CD showcases first-class, mesmerizing brass and other sounds.

Tracks: Outdoor Spell; Crossing the Sword Bridge of the Abyss; Corn Maiden’s Rite*; The Magician+

Personnel: Rhys Chatham: trumpet and voice; Beatriz Rojas: cajón; Jean-Marc Montera: guita+; Kevin Shea: drums

—For New York City Jazz Record March 2012