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TV Pow - TV Pow presents Michael Hartman, Todd A. Carter and Brent Gutzeit as TV Pow

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Artist: TV Pow

Album: TV Pow presents Michael Hartman, Todd A. Carter and Brent Gutzeit as TV Pow

Label: Southport

Review date: May. 23, 2006

TV Pow are often characterized as a laptop trio, and they've oft played in that guise. But in truth, the Chicago-based ensemble has never been purely electronic; from the beginning they've used homemade instruments such as the canjo (a stand-up stringed instrument made from a repurposed Hershey's chocolate syrup can) and good old-fashioned drums and guitars, and their most important assets – restless intelligence and intransigent attitude – require no power strips. Still, it's a quite shocker to find them using a very nice, in-tune piano from an audiophile studio, and virtually incomprehensible that this record's been released by a label whose website trumpets itself as a source of “Real jazz made in Chicago.” Willie Pickens this is not.

“The International Brigade” opens the disc in a sort of chops-challenged AMM mode, with stately chords trudging across a surface of groaning scraped drumheads. Within two minutes flickering electronic tones and swooshing traffic noise ease onto the scene, like cutout magazine photographs of fruit surreptitiously tucked into a hyper-realist still life painting. It's all quite lovely, and the tinkle of bells raises the question; are TV Pow mocking the beauty they've created, or inviting us to meditate upon it? Or both? The next piece, “Maybe It's The Alternator,” foregrounds its electronic effects more, contrasting unnaturally elongated bell tones and digital pops with more moody piano. It also features some lonely guitar plucking that somehow makes me ponder the irony that Chicago, once the home of the blues, is now the host to a legendarily ineffective recycling program in which you mix certain categories of refuse together in blue plastic bags, which sometimes show up in landfills. TV Pow do the opposite; instead of bogus salvage, they authentically reuse field recordings to set these pristine-sounding acoustic ramblings within a grimier world, albeit a much less ear-scouring one than they routinely muster when the piano lid is down and the laptop lids are up.

The album closes with a laptop-free live set that transpired at Chicago's Spareroom venue in October 2003. The album's cover, which shows Hartman drumming with his face to the back of the hall and Gutzeit stretched out on the floor (he's credited with “sleep” and yes, I've seen him nod off at a gig), gives you some idea of the absurdity that transpired. But the track holds up as an audio experience, one in which episodes of tragically droning organ slide into sparse, clattering metallic mobiles that twist and shimmer and clang like a partially gutted lunar module left hanging in a ruined, roofless Smithsonian of the distant future. The sirens and street noise that punctuate many performances I've heard at this venue make a couple appearances, jostling for space with the band's own rude coughing. TV Pow use a dose of snotty surrealism to keep it really real.

By Bill Meyer

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