Japanese noise king Merzbow and progressive Hungarian power drummer Balázs Pándi have worked together in many settings since 2010. In 2013, they became a trio with the addition of Swedish sax powerhouse Mats Gustafsson on Cuts, a sprawling exercise in punishing free improv. Guitarist Thurston Moore joined them for 2015's Cuts of Guilt, Cuts Deeper and the concert offering Cuts Up, Cuts Out a year later. Sans Moore, the double-length Cuts Open marks the return of the trio. It was recorded live at Tokyo's premier avant room, Studio Gok.
This outing consists of four long improvisations lasting between 17 and 24 minutes. Cuts Open arrives as a surprise. While it can be heard as an extension of what these musicians did previously, it reflects a different m.o. Rather than another fiercely overdriven set of skronky, assaultive exchanges, the trio project the desire to explore spatial dimensions with airiness, and adventurous textures with controlled dynamics. This new direction is evidenced amply on opener "I Went Down to Brother." Here, Pándi's exploratory drumming acts as catalyst, hub, and focus for what unfolds. He doesn't bridge ideas, he establishes and guides them with rolling gongs, cymbals, reverb, cracking floor toms, digital glitches, and organic hand percussion, while Gustafsson's flute drones through whole tones as Merzbow adds poignant squelches, feedback, and tempered bursts of noise that accent rather than swallow Pándi's assertive playing leading directional shifts. The piece sounds more like focused free jazz rather than improvised noise. "And We Went Home" is introduced by Gustafsson's tongue slaps on tenor as Merzbow adds crunchy, spiraling jet-and-wind sounds. Pándi begins rolling on low-tuned tom-toms, meeting their propulsion head on. The tension ratchets as the piece goes on, but it also dissipates cyclically, then expands to embody more expansive textures. "We Went Up to Mother" begins with extended silences punctuated only by Gustafsson breathing through and fingering the saxophone as Pándi rubs and grinds across his cymbals. Merzbow actually paints an unsettling ambient backdrop. As Gustafsson begins to assert the sax horn more directly, the percussive intensity gathers around him. The trio engage an immersive yet freely conversational restraint until the final four minutes, when all hell breaks loose. "He Locked the Door" delivers the expected free sonic assault of bleating, roaring, squalling saxes, crushing, ear-bleeding waves of electronics, and Pándi blasting across the kit with fury, adding unfettered power to this unholy, unforgiving sonic storm. An unidentified voice begins yelling in the background, signifying what instruments cannot express. The trio's encounter on Cuts Open is one of in-the-moment exchange and assemblage, not sonic confrontation. Fans will likely hear this as a statement of maturity and progress. That said, newcomers would do well to experience this outing first; it provides a compelling entryway to their more incendiary outings.
© Thom Jurek /TiVo