Die Dicken Finger

Offroad Core
Gligg Records 012

Sandy Ewen/Damon Smith/Weasel Walter

Sandy Ewen/Damon Smith/Weasel Walter

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With more-or-less the same instrumental line-up as a customary Rock power trio, these ensembles nonetheless stretch the expected timbral concord into experimental territory without sacrificing the speed and power associated with Hard Rock.

Cunning in its subtle distortion of electric guitar-electric-bass-drums motifs, the German trio Die Dicken Finger (DDF) or in English “The thickness of the fingers” could likely sneak onto a bill at a Heavy Metal festival until the realization dawned that the all-instrumental band was playing riffs just a little too sophisticated for the show. Committed to interjecting unexpected improvised asides into their music, the Americans on the other CD proclaim their individuality with the miscellaneous percussion brought to the gig by New York’s Weasel Walter plus the laptop and field recordings utilized alongside his 7-string upright bass by Houston’s Damon Smith. At the same time Sandy Ewen, another Houston resident, busies herself creating the expected electric guitar riffs and distortion.

Berlin-based, the members of Die Dicken Finger also have impressive credentials working with more Jazz-oriented players. Guitarist Olaf Rupp for instance is in bands with the likes of trombonist Matthias Müller and drummer Tony Buck; bassist Jan Roder with bass clarinetist Rudi Mahall; and drummer Oli Steidle with pianist Aki Takase and Mahall.

Those associations have to be set aside during the six tracks on DDF’s CD since this is Heavy Metal Jazz at its zenith – or most bombastic – if you prefer. Steidle’s pop, ruffs and forceful backbeat plus cymbal slaps are always audible; Roder’s sluicing bass rumbles plug any holes left in the performances; and Rupp’s guitar lines either twang like they’re trying to reach the top row in a sports arena or vibrate with reed-like sophistication. Throughout whether upfront are slurred fingering, crunching licks or press rolls, the focus is on kinetic coloration – damn the delicacy.

At the same time, when the trio is fully immersed in its particular improv variant as on the more-than-10½- minute “Tilt Shift Capital”, a brutalist subtlety is present as well. Studding the dense sound mosaic is dramatic rasgueado from the guitarist that holds fast to the melody, as the bass and drum somersault through changes in tempo, rhythm and intensity. By the finale the staccato evolution seems as cleansing as it is unstoppable.

Similarly unstoppable, but much less wedded to expected Metal tropes are Ewen, Smith and Walter (ESW). Least known of the three is Ewen, a member of the rock band Weird Weeds, who has also played with improv trombonist David Dove. Initially from the Bay area, Smith has worked with many improvisers including pianist Scott Looney and saxophonist Wolfgang Fuchs; while Walter has gigged with just about everyone ranging from trumpeter Peter Evans to multi-reedist Vinny Golia.

Crackling and scrubbed guitar runs coupled with fuzzy electric bass shuffles or sul ponticello plucks plus unexplained rhythms on unnamed percussion constitute the trio’s game plan on the CD’s eight untitled selections. Nevertheless ESW traffics in less easily identifiable timbres than DDF. With the interface on tracks such as the fourth scurrying from Free Music-like dissonant rustles and rubs to Heavy Metal styled pressurized thumps, the beat is in contrast sometimes arrhythmic. Textures that could be old-time cash registers pinging, ancient doors creaking or signal-processed whistling leech into the improvisations. Here it’s Ewan’s slowed down claw-hammer licks and Smith’s hand pressured strokes that define the piece. Walter’s ratamacues as well as plinks and pops on vibes-like bars define the succeeding track, although it appears that Ewen and Smith are detuning and shaking different string combinations as they dart in and out of the narrative. Blurring the sound picture are static and pre-recorded voices slowed down, sped up and run backwards via Smith’s field recordings. Finally the percussionist’s bravado bounces and rolls knit the parts together.

While aviary cries and metallic thumps appear elsewhere at odd intervals on the disc, ESW gets to expand its strategy to its threshold on the more-than-17½ minute sixth track. Used for idea expression not showy excess, both industrial sound reflections and experimental techniques are taken to logical conclusions. Consequently when a sudden burst of guitar fissure meets over-amplified spiccato plucks from the 7-string, it leads to descending twangs and frailing from Ewen, matched by Smith’s hand-heel hammering. Swelling to an ear-splitting screech that combines frenetic guitar strokes as buzzing bass pops, the narrative is further complicated as blurry laptop oscillations are laid on top of those timbres. Finally using bass drum smacks and hollow conga-like pats, Walter connects the others’ broken-chord improvising long enough to create an ending.

Never to be confused with either a mainstream Jazz guitar-bass-drum trio or a Black Metal trio, each of these bands has created a CD which provides original variants on the sounds usually produced by this instrumental combination.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Sandy: 1. (9:48) 2. (11:37); 3. (9:25); 4. (11:08); 5. (7:51); 6. (17:31) 7. (4:09) 8. (7:19)

Personnel: Sandy: Sandy Ewen (guitar); Damon Smith (7-String electric upright bass, laptop computer and field Recordings) and Weasel Walter (drums)

Track Listing: Offroad: 1. Optimus Prime 2. Carla Munksolm 3. Simsabaling 4. Tilt Shift Capital 5. Bumblebee 6. Gone Forever

Personnel: Offroad: Olaf Rupp (guitar); Jan Roder (electric bass) and Oliver Steidle (drums)