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Julie Mittens - March 5, 2003

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Artist: Julie Mittens

Album: March 5, 2003

Label: self-released

Review date: Nov. 8, 2005

On April 23, 1967, the John Coltrane Quintet shredded the performance space of Babatunde Olatunji’s Harlem cultural center. The concert was one of the saxophonist’s last stage appearances, but the tapes didn't resurface until 2002 as Impulse’s The Olatunji Concert: The Last Live Recording. The spirit of that concert also resurfaced, on March 5, 2003 in the live – and very electric - performance of a trio of Dutch musicians, the Julie Mittens. Their set is documented on this self-released, limited edition CD-R. Spurred on by their mutual affection of the Olatunji concert, they chase the celebratory, empathetic ecstasy Coltrane tapped.

Over four extended improvisations, guitarist Aart-Jan Schakenbos, bassist Michael van Dam and drummer Leo Fabriek walk a harrowing path between amplifier anarchy and balanced interaction, never failing to make the two meet. Schakenbos provides the skyscraping as he warps and mutilates single notes with the centrifugal force of massive feedback. Van Dam either drops terrifying bass bombs that fill the vacuum Schakenbos leaves in his wake, drones ominously, or dialogues. Fabriek, however, harnesses the others' energy, as he resists the urge to flail away, and instead inserts a fill when it increases tension, thumps steadily when a groove is needed, or colors when space beckons.

Coltrane might have been the catalyst for the these three, but nearly forty years of extreme music has also contributed elements to their unstable chemistry. Van Dam is one of the founders of the Dutch Wot Nxt collective and one half of the noise provocateurs the Sugar Coated Mind Bombs. Schakenbos and Fabriek, in their duo project Tenuzu No Chiizu, explore the sidelong worlds of Japanese improv. These streams spill over into the Julie Mittens, manifested as shattering decibels, primal rock ritual, a telepathic knack for pinpoint placement, and combustible interaction.

The trio, though, never exaggerates any one element, foregrounding different strengths at different times. The first track unfolds at an excruciating pace, the trio pulling at Schakenbos’ granular phrases until they start distending into a cataclysmic howl, the piece culminating in a slow-burn supernova. On the next piece, Fabriek and van Dam grope for a few minutes at the skeleton of a theme and rhythm, but Schakenbos pushes them to more emphatic heights, a move that strains the recording equipment to such a degree that all three merge into a blistering wall of near seamless distortion.

The final two pieces both rely on repetition, but with divergent outcomes. For the third piece, Schakenbos builds towering structures on top of an ominous bass-drum ostinato, and tension mushrooms and contracts with each cycle. No such fluctuations, however, for the fifteen-minute finale, during which the group, from the start, lumbers in a locked groove that never subsides and never falters – it only swells towards an unreachable climax. Gaining in intensity from moment to moment and listen to listen, one waits, and hopes, for the Julie Mittens to continue their quest.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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Recorded June 20 2005

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