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Peter Evans, Sam Pluta and Jim Altieri - Sum and Difference

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Artist: Peter Evans, Sam Pluta and Jim Altieri

Album: Sum and Difference

Label: Carrier

Review date: Jun. 2, 2011

Let’s do the math. Three musicians — trumpeter Peter Evans, violinist Jim Altieri, and laptopper Sam Pluta — play on Sum and Difference, but there are only two of them on each of the record’s six tracks, and one of them is always Pluta. This puts the spotlight on what Pluta does, but that’s often not easy to discern. This music, like so much electronic experimental work recorded since the 1990s, has a whodunit aspect. Is that a sound file, or a real-time transformation of someone else’s playing? Or, now that a generation of acoustic musicians has taken the "all sound is material" aesthetical ball from the computer operators and run with it, the product of extended technique? The answer is all of the above.

Pluta and Altieri have been partners for over half a decade, teaching together at the Walden School and playing in the electro-acoustic quartet Glissando Bin Laden. Pluta hasn’t been a member of Evans’ Quintet for as long, but since joining his refractory, Pluta’s reflective playing has enabled the combo to make the leap from free jazz to the still-nameless Next Thing.

Evans is first into the ring. “Fusion” and “Diffusion” are lightning quick blasts through Evans’ lip-twisting catalog of sputters and squelches, which gain extra sproing from Pluta’s transformative interventions and confusion potential from the sounds that he drops into the mix. If you like your sound movement fast and fucked, this is the stuff.

“Sum and Difference A,” the first of the two tracks with Altieri, seems less concerned with making things happen at speed and more involved with the details of what happens. At first, Pluta confines his contributions to distortions of the violin’s timbre that are reminiscent of the dynamic John Butcher and Phil Durrant cultivated in the late ’90s, with the significant caveat that Durrant only used analog electronics. Ultimately, Pluta takes advantage of the laptop’s capacity to mess with time, and he starts throwing sped-up shards of Altieri’s bowing into the mix.

I could go on with the blow-by-blow, but frankly this stuff doesn’t lend itself well to description. Let’s just say that it delivers the surface thrill of experimental music — hearing and being amazed by strange sounds — but that the playing also has an underlying thoughtfulness and rapid responsiveness that keeps this stuff rewarding after the novelty wears off.

By Bill Meyer

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