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Xavier Charles and Terrie Ex - Addis

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Artist: Xavier Charles and Terrie Ex

Album: Addis

Label: Terp

Review date: Sep. 9, 2011

“Addis means ‘new.’ That’s how it felt.” So ends Terrie Ex’s liner notes for Addis. I suspect he’s referring to a new chapter in his musical relationship with Xavier Charles, a clarinetist and electronic musician who has been associated with The Ex’s Ethiopian adventures since 2006. But this record also finds the guitarist treading on new ground. Volume is essential to The Ex’s sound, and Terrie’s generally been the band’s biggest volume dealer; on early records like Pokkeherrie and Blueprints For A Blackout, he didn’t seem to be working with notes and chords, but with massive slabs of sound, and while the three-way six-string tangle of the recent Ex, as heard on Catch My Shoe, is more differentiated, it’s still pretty powerful. Terrie’s been playing with improvisers since the late ’80s, when The Ex recruited several of them to play on their immortal double album Joggers & Smoggers, and Ken Vandermark’s ruefully humorous acknowledgements in the notes to his recent collaboration with Terrie (amongst others) in the quartet Lean Left testify to his continuing willingness to blow the roof off the house. So what is he doing playing unplugged at the start of Addis?

That’s unplugged as in unamplified, not acoustic. Terrie sticks to electric guitar throughout this set, which was recorded during one of his frequent trips to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Ex has an ongoing involvement with the nation that has involved bringing goods (they typically leave their instruments behind), services (the nation’s first visit from a saxophone repair technician in years), and new music. Charles brought his trio, Silent Block, which typically uses vibrating surfaces such as disassembled speakers as sound sources, to a play a few concerts that one can safely say were not like anything the Ethiopians had ever heard before. But while he was there, he started playing his other instrument, a clarinet, with Terrie. The seven tracks on Addis were recorded in a hotel room and the garden of Le Bateau Ivre, a bar popular with ex-pats that hosts jazz on Monday nights.

In neither setting was Terrie able to muster his usual amped-up attack. The record opens with the sounds of distant traffic. Only gradually does Terrie’s flailing at his strings and Charles’ tapping at his horn’s keys rise up to challenge the whoosh of passing cars. But then a hound’s loud yelp ups the ante, and you can almost imagine the two guys looking at each other as if to say, “Well, he’s awake, nothing we can do about it now.” At any rate, the guitarist flips his amp on and the clarinetist starts spinning slurred exhalations into a circular breathing-powered whirlwind.

While the necessity for quiet keeps Terrie outside his comfort zone, it also lets him demonstrate what a resourceful musician he can be. He matches the flow of breath over the horn’s body with rhythmic scrapes, and scrabbles at the strings so that his broken chords dance with Charles’ puckered notelets. But without the boost of volume, these sounds coexist with chirping bugs and birds, as well as the distant chatter of patrons inside the bar. There are a few moments when they get loud enough for the guitar to feedback and the clarinet to let loose a long ripple, but then they bring it back down right away (don’t wanna wake the neighbors).

Addis feels like a document of a singular moment, but also a discovery of something new. Here’s hoping that Terrie avails himself of more thin-walled recording situations.

By Bill Meyer

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