Tabs Out | New Batch – Astral Spirits

New Batch – Astral Spirits
6.4.18 by Ryan Masteller

Nate Cross at Astral Spirits is like J. K. Simmons’s malevolent “Fletcher” in the super rad film “Whiplash,” the Svengali behind all the great current jazz acts. I bet he gets all slappy with his drummers and stuff too, and with all that tape cash coming in, he can afford to force-manufacture his own “Bird” without the threat of consequence. You gotta break some eggs to make an omelet, am I right? A jazz omelet.

I’m just kidding — I bet Nate is a superb individual and a gentle soul. Still, those piles of cash are pretty tall.

Now that we’ve established with facts and figures and charts and graphs [*image missing*] that the Austin-based label is a jazz behemoth along the lines of Blue Note (and in almost every way has surpassed those clowns), let’s see what they have for us this June, shall we? (No, Mike Haley, I DON’T want to listen to your Wayne Shorter and Mingus bootlegs. GAWD, for like the thousandth time!)


Andrew Barker did NOT sling a cymbal at Daniel Carter’s head during the recording of “Polyhedron,” that I can almost 100% assure you even without any research. But these two guys, whose playing days go back farther than I can even imagine (and I can imagine pretty big numbers), do us, the listeners, one better by slinging IDEAS back and forth at one another, batting them around the studio with masterful complexity and lithe reflex like pro tennis players (let’s say Pete Sampras and Rod Laver). Nobody gets hurt in this process. In the end we’ve got four fantastic odes to musicians whose careers cast shadows over Barker and Carter, inspiring them and subconsciously guiding them: Roy Campbell, Sabir Mateen, William Parker, and Charles Waters. Barker and Carter have a kind of mind meld going on here, like Spock did to McCoy as he was dying in “Wrath of Khan,” but way more pleasurable in this instance, like they’re sharing conscious thought rather than personal history (although there’s probably some of that too). The result is an ebb and flow of sax, clarinet, trumpet and flute against drums, a push and pull as the duo explores the space they’re creating, alternately expansive and claustrophobic, but always fully forward in momentum. In sum, this is how you do the duo record the right way.


Liudas Mockunas (clarinet, soprano and tenor sax), Jacek Mazurkiewicz (contrabass, electronics), and Hakon Berre (drums) show us how jazz is done Eastern European style on “Live in Warsaw,” a percolating cauldron of activity that constantly shifts and morphs with the mood of the players, of the room. Because yes, this is a live document, and thus it’s a snapshot in time, a relic of sounds in the air combined into a whole. The trio is workmanlike, exploring the ground they cover like archaeologists, but they’re also philosophical, allowing for the “spirit to move them,” as it were. By the time side B’s “Rzeka” builds to its towering climax, we tape listeners are fully envious of those who caught the crew live at Mózg in Warsaw on October 18, 2015. I guess, if we allow “Live in Warsaw” to fully overcome us, we can say that we were a part of it in some capacity, psychically maybe – we can beam our good vibes of this event to others and plant extrasensory suggestions in them to buy this tape. And the other three here too, for that matter.


Luke Stewart has been “performing various portions of [‘Works for Upright Bass and Amplifier’] at art exhibitions throughout 2017.” I’m wondering, with the intense frequencies he emanates with the titular upright amplifier, whether he’s invited back to said art exhibitions once he’s played them. I can imagine the curators, sweating profusely and checking their watches as Stewart’s churning rumble shakes priceless vases and vibrates the most artistic Picassos in their frames, the tones undulating through the floor and walls like an earthquake on the San Andreas Fault. But Stewart doesn’t care – he wants it all to come crashing down into a mesmerizing debris pile, the greatest works of art repurposed into fragments humming with energy. That’s what “Works for Upright Bass and Amplifier” will do for you at home as well – “Play loud!” says the label, and watch your priceless heirlooms crumble to dust in the face of sheer bass power. The experience is totally “off the chain,” like Guy Fieri says.


Sigh… what do I do with this? How do I comprehend the dimensionality of chairs? And at what point does a chair warrant consideration beyond the capacity for human understanding anyway? I am mad befuddled, a condition not helped by all the clarinet-masquerading-as-a-synthesizer drone ol’ John McCowen, aka He Who Put Me in This State. That’s right, McCowen approaches his instrument of choice here as if it were a Doepfer A-100 Analog Modular System (or, I dunno, a MiniKorg – I gotta admit, I’m not real knowledgable). Performing live drones as if he wanted to upset the very elements of terrestrial existence with their vibrational qualities, McCowen dreams of chairs existing in volatile states, not quite here, not quite there, certainly not perceivable with even the most cutting-edge scientific equipment. He gets under your skin with these drones, upsetting your thought process. … Oh, “FOUR Chairs in THREE Dimensions”? I thought it was the other way around. I feel so foolish!

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