Bryan Murray / Sam Kulik / Jon Irabagon / Matt Kanelos / Jon Lundbom / Nick Millevoi / Moppa Elliott / Balto Exclamationpoint

November 8, 2021

Beats By Balto! V.2

Chant Records No

Putting a hip-hop spin on the “is it live or Memorex” slogan, Balto masterminds New York saxophonist Bryan Murray and Austin-based guitarist Jon Lundbom use the beats created from samples of already recorded tracks as the basis for this disc. But instead of stretching and reconstituting the existing material themselves they add newly recoded snippets from other similarly distanced and Covid-isolated players. That means that Murray’ sax arsenal is doubled or replaced by Jon Irabagon’s reed contributions; Lundbom shares guitar duties with Nick Millevoi; and aural inserts are heard from trombonist Sam Kulik, keyboardist Matt Kanelos and bassists Moppa Elliott or Richard Mikel.

All 10 tracks stomp with Balto Exclamationpoint’s almost non-stop rhythms. Yet while most tunes manage to create a novel synthesis between improvised music and dedicated hip-hop beats, seams show at different points with more than a few of the tracks ended with fades rather than resolution. That said, “Truck Gun” shows this sonic integration at its most enlightened. Balanced on crunching guitar flanges, Murray’s repeated synthesizer and alto sax motifs meet up with Irabagon’s slurs and smears suggesting Ayler meets Ornette. The claustrophobic result is maintained even after Irabagon switches to sopanino screeds to complement the heavy back beat. Without losing the groove the piece retains individuality as electric piano riffs and trombone blasts join the mix.

Linearity as well as looseness is maintained, with other musical options suggested as the album evolves. “Tears and Fists” for instance is an adagio showpiece for Lundbom with as many C&W style twangs as Metal runs figuring into its echoing evolution. Meanwhile “Cap’n Crunch” is an electronic affiliated interlude in which the beats seem posed to fall out-of-tune or cease completely bur always manage to clasp onto horizontal movement. Displaying fast and slow, bright and dark textures overall, the CD climaxes with a final “Hot Shit”. Mutated into a menacing squeal, the piece retails its Bluesy leanings even as dissonant split tones, bizarre electronics and a solid drum shuffle predominates.

Attaining its objectives without negating more sophisticated sources, Beats By Balto! V.2 can’t be beat. Bet all the participants would like more live interaction though.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Battalions 2. Beat Like This 3. Big P (Interlude) 4. Tears and Fists 5. Ex Machina 6. Cap’n Crunch (Interlude) 7. Truck Gun 8. Enter! 9. Weak Sauce (Interlude) 10. Hot Shit

Personnel: Sam Kulik (trombone Bryan Murray (soprano, alto, c-melody and tenor saxophones); Jon Irabagon (sopranino, soprano, mezzo-soprano, balto! and tenor saxophones; alto clarinet); Matt Kanelos (keyboard); Jon Lundbom and/or Nick Millevoi (guitar); Moppa Elliott or Richard Mikel (bass); Balto Exclamationpoint (beats)