Empty Castles
Aerophonic AR-016

By Ken Waxman

Taking full advantage of the acoustics inside Vallejo, California’s Bunker A-168 are members of the Spectral trio whose polyphonic improvisations develop additional sonic possibilities by applying the spatial qualities of this long-deserted 12,000 foot Second World War concrete munitions depository. Already committed to the extended techniques and dissonant currents of free music, the players – Burlington, Ont.-born, California-based trumpeter Darren Johnston, fellow Bay area resident sopranino and tenor saxophonist Larry Ochs and Chicago alto and baritone saxophonist Dave Rempis – create nine sequences here in Action Painting-like dribs and drabs, with the cavernous setting further amplifying their connected and challenged timbres.

Tracks such as the concluding “Gravity Corridor”, where squished brass smears and the reeds’ shuddering snarls attain the apogee of discordance, or “Protest Portal”, a whining lullaby of mixing disconnected saxophone pressure tones and an unexpected rubato tattoo from Johnston are almost textbook instance of cacophony. But Empty Castles offers reassuring consonance as well. “Splash Zone is a close to a swing piece as this trio gets, with chromatic harmonies extended through trumpet flutters plus tongue slaps and splintered tones from the reeds, adding up to chromatic polyphony. Before that, “Brooklyn Took It” blends brass brays and distorted reed peeps into a mellow pointillist groove.

In reality Bunker A-168 may be an empty castle. But on this disc it’s filled with distinctive assertive horn sounds.

—For The Whole Note September 2018