Review Summary: A chamber jazz orchestra gone wild.
Borrowing the 'fusion unit-turned-big band ensemble' paradigm behind albums like Frank Zappa's The Grand Wazoo
, and renovating it with the structural erraticism of the '60s 'art'-jazz scene, Sound & Fury conjures up an orgiastic outburst of sounds, and fashions them into a sonic tapestry of avant-garde jazz. The entirety of Pulsacion
is solely comprised of unreleased works by the late Edward Vesala, and with the spirit of the late jazz innovator conducting the band from beyond the grave, Sound & Fury not only beautifully mirror the eccentric showmanship that made Vesala's music so unique, but also manage to do so while adding in their own artistic flare into the mix. Like any avant-garde jazz record, Pulsacion
thrives in being artistically unorthodox, although what makes Pulsacion
such a fascinating listen is that the album isn't so much about experimentalism overruling harmony, but instead focuses on finding the perfect trifecta of energy, art, and euphony. In other words, the compositions are thought-provoking, stylistically diverse, as well as technically complex, but the album as a whole is not necessarily riddled in obscurity.
The music is always shape-shifting without warning in Pulsacion
. Sound & Fury have such a masterful understanding of sonics and structure, and they love to show that off by constantly alternating from meticulous form and harmony to free-jazz improvisations, as well as incorporating a mixture of different styles along the way. Each track has its own distinct mood and sound, presenting itself like some modernized representative of a particular sub-genre in the jazz spectrum. The catchy big band tune "I Tell You a Story" and the Karma
-esque tranquility in "Nattuggla" are two of the major highlights among the album's accessible side. Neither track can be particularly categorized as typical mainstream jazz, -- "Nattuggla" is pretty much an exercise in far-out cosmicality and "I Tell You a Story" has enough Zappa-like quirkiness to be mistaken for a Grand Wazoo
b-side -- but there is an undeniable sense of mellifluousness to be found in either one, whether it be moments of downright poppy melodies or calming ambiences. "Siamese Twins" gets into more of a grey area, serving as the middle ground between accessible 'big band-rock' and adventurous jazz. It has the looseness and grit of typical fusion, and follows the standard 'theme-solos-theme' dynamic, but there is also a glimpse of abstract theatrics during the middle section. "Siamese Twins" begins with a real grooving theme that serves as a jumping-off point for the musicians to leap into an improvisational workout, complete with rubato sections and knotty musicianship (although the group's disciplined enough to know when enough is enough), before bringing it full circle for the climax.
The abstract side of Pulsacion
is, needless to say, filled with sophisticated and contemplative compositions that, while a laborious listen for those who cannot stomach the experimental side of jazz, can be found to be remarkably evocative for those intrigued. These tracks are all about getting to the root of what artists like Coltrane and Coleman were exploring in the '60s. To try and channel the charisma that made the spiritual ambiances and adrenaline-rushed enthusiasm of their respective albums so memorable. "Lamgonella Lomboo", "Pulsacion", and "Shadows" are the most sonically abrasive compositions in the entire album in both style and structure, leaping freely from '60s post-bop modality to a sonic barrage of formless technical work at a moment's notice. The album's opener, "Lamgonella Lomboo", kind of sets the tone for what one can expect in Pulsacion
's odd moments. "Lamgonella Lomboo" is a spectacle of primitive aggression, and an obvious nod to Vesala's 'energy'-jazz idols like John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, and Ornette Coleman. Its instrumental build-up primarily revolves around three crucial elements; a choir of untamed horns all blowing clamorously at center stage, sporadic noise-rock guitar antics, and technical percussion work that sounds like drummer Ilmari Heikinheimo is possessed by the ghost of Tony Williams. The different instrumentals are all playing their own stretched out solos, yet the production unionizes them into a formidable wall-of-sound experience. Creating a discordant and abrasive performance that serves no further purpose than producing a long-winded, 'Free Jazz
-esque' musical séance.
"Shadows" and "Pulsacion" are the highlights among the experimental tracks. Rather then reprising "Lamgonella Lomboo"'s near ten minute spectacle of over-the-top spontaneity, both tracks blend post-bop structure with the occasional reference to the sounds and textures of avant-garde. In other words, there is some complex improvisation to be found, but it's not the most prominent aspect of either track. "Shadows" tries to fuse energy and ambiance, and in some ways it reminds me little of Coltrane's latter works (Meditations
in particular). By the second half of the '60s, Coltrane began looking to his interests in cosmic transcendence for inspiration, which not only gave his albums an aura of mysticism, but it also felt like he was confessing his own spiritual frustrations through the aggressiveness of his music. Now, I'm not exactly claiming that "Shadows" embodies that same kind of mystical energy or personal sincerity, but it does elevate the listener to a realm of its own. It's a psychedelic kind of atmosphere, but not in the sense that it delves into anything ethereal or ineffably cosmic, it's a more of a collage of weirdness. It's a mind-bending jam with harmonies that move in a modal-like fashion, and its loose harmony and tempo allows the soloist's imagination to simply run wild. "Pulsacion" is my personal favourite among the entire album, and it's a rather brilliantly orchestrated composition. "Pulsacion" begins with a haunting brass choir and quietly tense drum work setting up a rather unnerving ambiance. The instrumentation gradually becomes more sporadic and abstract, steadily shifting from dreary modality to Coleman-esque insanity. What I personally love about this track is the myriad of sounds that, little by little, begin to surround you from all directions, it makes for an eerily claustrophobic experience.
I must admit that I've never been much of a fan of experimental jazz, but rather an occasional listener. And while Pulsacion
didn't necessarily change my initial opinion on the matter, it did help me attain a stronger admiration for the style. Granted, that I do enjoy a few selected records in the avant vein, such as Meditations
and Charles Mingus' The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
, but I've always found the genre to be too intellectual and complex for my taste. It's overwhelming to try and comprehend the concept behind this kind of music, and it's even tougher to actually
acquire a taste for it. Although what I find absolutely fascinating about experimental jazz is the very thing that repels me away from it, and that is its rejection of logic. Over time I've come to learn that listening to an album of this nature, is much like staring into an abstract painting. You can either try and make sense of the erraticism, or you can admire its creatively eccentric nature and simply experience what it has to offer. Pulsacion
is not the most accessible album in the jazz catalog, but it's not among the most obscure either. In fact, I'll go as far as to say that I view Pulsacion
as a stepping stone into appreciating the abstract sides of jazz. It has a very unique arrangement, because by dividing its enigmatic epics with interludes of instant and energetic tracks, it allows the listener some time to breathe in between in 'rougher' experiences. It took time for me to wrap my head around the strangeness of the album, but once it clicked and I experienced that moment when one listens to an album and all of a sudden your brain just says "I like this!," I couldn't put it down. I love how the album isn't afraid to tread whatever territory sparks its curiosity, yet never letting its adventurous ambitions turn the music into a spectacle of pretentiousness.