Communication in our times is ruled by a complex technological network of new and old machinery, human input and ethereal robotic reactions, a seemingly clear divide between organic and inorganic that is harder to make out with the passing of time; yet, it’s not exactly a Hollywood sci-fi panorama of full integration, but more like those old Dadaist photomontages of pressure gauge-headed men and impossibly useless devices that immediately strike out as oddly over-human. Bandwidth is perhaps a part of that, a measure that simplifies and transforms communication to either a part of a physical event expressed in frequency, or a range of digitalized data. It throws the art-ificiality of human contact directly at our senses (for even a conversation might be full of hidden meanings and almost unperceivable gestures conscious or otherwise that might be picked up by the other or not) even while our minds instantly work to suppress that knowledge to let us think that yes, that is my friend looking at me and talking to me in that computer screen.
It is quite a revelation, then, when all of a sudden in this massive three disc, three hour free jazz work, perfectly recorded and produced, the audience starts clapping and shouting. If you, like me, hadn’t read anything about the work and didn’t know it is a well-thought series of cuts from at least three live concerts from this amazing collective of some of the genre’s current greats (lead by clarinetist Frode Gjerstad and including a collaborative spectrum that goes from noise specialist Lasse Marhaug to Bobby Bradford, and many more in between those generations), you possibly found yourself in surprise and awe. Do not think of this as a spoiler (and if it is I am sorry!), but a piece of information that will enhance the experience as you realize the ‘final product’ is maybe as improvised as the music itself, breaching several holes in the line between reality and the suggestion of it.
It is divided into two long pieces, “Yellow Bass & Silver Cornet II” and “Dancing in St. Johan IV”; two long pieces that feel like a sincere celebration of free jazz’s ultimate goal, communal expression, but completely transmitted, transformed into kilobytes and fed into our ears as a paradox of communication, for you could say that turning the volume up and having one of those Dolby Incredible Sound Systems will give you a physical experience very different but probably as rich as ‘being there’, in the concert. If you have an Incredible Video System then you could also put up a video of one of those concerts to fulfill the simulacrum, but maybe that’s just pushing it. Seriously though, the ‘hyperreal’ is brought up midway through the work and then is not let go. Like a video conference that suddenly lags and glitches, we’re reminded this is only similar to a regular conversation… although Bandwidth does it in reverse and inverts the premise, turning the tables on any of those usual philosophical considerations about the nature of the simulation, making it deeper and even more interesting than before.
The music itself is excellent and precise, with instruments flowing in and out of their originally conceived sound styles in a way that tends towards the noisy yet calculated edge of Brötzmann. The electronics in “Yellow Bass…” provide a fierce impulse for the rest of the collective when it comes to these cathartic moments of glory, while in “Dancing in St. Johan IV” they become the contrast that completes the whole, the tail of the serpent bitten by its head as the rest of the musicians paint its colors in transitions of lively atonal madness and Takemitsu-like segments of elegant balance in simplicity and silence. These are three hours of community that will pass by as if it had been only one, and you’ll probably want more; the creativity of these musicians is so immense there is not one single moment that feels dragged out, boring, or awkward, as sometimes happens with free jazz collectives still searching for a sound that is truly theirs and not just a compilation of their personal forms of expression.
In this sense, a question that might be added to the earlier part of this review and with which we can conclude arises: how many instances of mediation are there between this (live) music and our ears? After all, these musicians express themselves through several filters, the first of which is their choice of an instrument to play, after which comes the matter of how they play it. Then we encounter the engineer’s choices: what microphones to use, where to position them, what sounds to filter out, what instruments are pushed to the forefront in the mix, etc. Afterwards come the producer’s decisions and so on until it’s time for us to make our own choices and define just how we are going to listen to this album. The bandwidth, so to speak, is incredibly extended, and the possibilities when the pieces come into our hands are practically infinite. Perhaps, like a conversation between musicians via their instruments, we’re destined to get lost in what Cecil Taylor used to call “expressions of order”, coming out with the feeling of enlightenment as shapen by confusion and end, like “Dancing in St. Johan IV”, with a calm, almost regular jazz segment followed by applause, thinking just how bizarre the spaces constructed by technology are.
By David Murrieta.
January 18, 2010