Experimental Music, Improvisation
Self-release, CD and digital download
Reviewed by Alistair Noble, March 1st, 2015
Forenzics is a Sydney-based collective of improvising musicians with a changing line-up of members and collaborators around the core group of Matthew Syres (guitar), Joe Cummins (trumpet and electronics) and Dirk Kruithof (guitar, bass). In this, their fourth album, the trio is joined by drummer John Wilton.
Admirably, the album was recorded without overdubs or edits, on one day. Forenzics claim to work from the principles of this short manifesto: “. . . play what you feel without limits and boundaries, only that it must be created there and then. There are no restrictions on genre, texture, format or structure. It is completely free music defined by the mood, ability and preferences of the musicians taking part.”
The charming naivety of these words also plays an important role in invoking the inherent contradictions and ambiguities in improv work, where nothing is ever truly free. For the listener it is more important to understand what the framing devices are in a given situation, to sense where the implicit or explicit boundaries are and then apply this to the appreciation of the work that occurs within. Some of these framing devices are obvious, such as the choice of instruments, while others are more subtle, for example in the ways that the musicians’ early training has structured their creative imaginations.
Somewhat surprisingly, given the promise of chaos that ‘complete freedom’ implies, Malign is a beautifully coherent album, its eight tracks sensitively paced and remarkably consistent in some structural respects, while the musicians play skilfully with the resources available to them within the frame. The electronics give a splendid weight and orchestral resource to what otherwise might be a somewhat transparent ensemble, yet the sound has been recorded and mixed very well to retain a very satisfying clarity. John Wilton’s drumming (here using a standard kit, nothing too exotic) is elegant and original, full of subtlety that is especially valuable in some of the more abstract moments, such as the quiet clatter of rims and wood on the opening track a dusk service/sun checks or the brilliantly skittering acid nekk. At other times, as in the eerie the song games, he works with ironically trad beats, giving high-toned cymbal-driven commentary to the rather sinister melodic lines of mysteriously proliferating trumpets.
Compositionally, if one can use that term for improv music, this album is full of interest. The tracks are set up with strong, often minimalist materials, and developed masterfully as structured pieces. The trumpet, inevitably, brings an overarching melodic sensibility to the music. Trumpeter Joe Cummins invokes, quite deliberately, the unavoidable ghost of Miles Davis, and indeed the band as a whole revel in their deep appreciation of jazz harmonies, and in the deconstructed essence of jazz melodic forms—often reduced almost to the bare-bones of intervals, weaving webs of pairs of notes that are like the concentrated, distilled essence of tunes.
Guitarists Matthew Syres and Dirk Kruithof also work in a space that engages with traditional chords and harmonic figures on the one hand (such as some beautifully placed chords in a dusk service/sun checks, which cut through and stabilise the restless textures) to the classic noise of hypnagogic on the other. Kruithof’s fretless bass adds a valuable component, with figures and lines that can operate detached from (or in-between) defined notes, at times generating huge swooping shapes that are both musically and viscerally affecting.
Malign is an album of intelligent, stylish music, and Forenzics are certainly a group to keep an ear out for in the future.
LISTEN: Band website: http://forenzics.net/