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Cold Bleak Heat - Simitu

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Artist: Cold Bleak Heat

Album: Simitu

Label: Family Vineyard

Review date: Apr. 16, 2007

For their second full-length, Cold Bleak Heat bring free music full circle, harnessing free jazz’s jagged tonalities, explosiveness and collective ecstasy while making that idiom a natural extension of the free and noise idioms of today. On the six pieces here they manifest subjective rhythm in a group setting, echoing not only the freely accented flow of Albert Ayler’s Spiritual Unity trio, but also the rollicking shape-shifting of Charles Mingus’ quartet on Candid. They also seek common ground with European free improvisation, the tectonic decay of the Dead C, and the more intricate densities and physical immersion of the noise underground, layering their sounds rather than locking them into a groove.

One glance at the group’s DNA explains how they manage this feat of unification. Saxophonist Paul Flaherty is an original member of the '70s free jazz underground; trumpeter Greg Kelley has added his voice to a trio with Axel Dörner and eai stalwart Günter Müller, as well as recordings of Anthony Braxton’s compositions; bassist Matt Heyner moves between the pure strains of the free jazz quartet TEST and the murkier explorations of the No-Neck Blues Band; drummer Chris Corsano is becoming the William Parker of his generation, unleashing his dense, rattling pulse in an ever-growing list of groups that includes everyone from noisenik Carlos Giffoni and punk-jazz guitarist Nels Cline to the tattered, free-range collages of MV/EE and the orchestral overkill of Björk. They take all of this experience and channel it through the classic set-up of sax, trumpet, bass and drums popularized by Ornette Coleman’s first quartet.

Simitu features no solos; instead, every piece feels like one giant group solo conceived and organized by a single mind. “Pound Cake” emerges from Corsano’s unaccompanied opening, the intensity immediately picked up on and maintained by the other three. The border between front line and rhythm section disappears, especially when Heyner’s arco lines become a third harmony voice with the horns or burn an entirely new path through the group’s tangled roar. The group-mind approach does at times create weighty clutter, with all four frequently playing at all times, but such simultaneity is essential to the sound they are reaching for.

The quartet’s ability to ignite ecstatic elegies into brush fires crystallizes on the album’s two longest pieces, “Mugged by a Glacier” and “A White Bandaged Hand in the Shadow of Death.” Both pieces rely on asymmetric movement, with one or two members playing in a decidedly slower tempo than the others, creating the all-important layering effect. The former is paced by Flaherty’s thick, sculptured tones, while the latter contains the album’s most inspired ensemble passages, the group mutating from peaking scream to melancholy moan and back.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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