Blast 4tet


Blast is a group from Holland with a long and fine history. We can file Blast under "Rock In Opposition", subsection "Complicated European Music": knotty compositional developments, a careful attention to timbre, a rhythm section that often plays "against" the melody. Obvious formative influences such as Henry Cow and Fred Frith in his more "Balkanic" mode were still clearly audible in the most recent album recorded by the group, A Sophisticated Face (1999): an album where the group refined their aesthetics, and where the line-up (two saxophones, guitar, bass and percussions) opened up to include trumpet, violin, cello and marimba to further advance their musical language; what possibilities lay ahead was the question one had to ask oneself at the end of that record.

Altrastrata tells a very different story. From the previous line-up here we find: the saxophones by Dirk Bruinsma, who's as usual very effective on soprano and propulsive on baritone; Frank Crijns on guitar; Paed Conca on bass; all three also play devices, electronics and electro-acoustic objects (and no, the liner notes are not of much help in this respect). The group appears to have decided to adopt (at least on the first four tracks on the CD, which to me are the most successful and the newest and most stimulating ones) quite a different attitude when it comes to the studio, timbre, and the overdubbing process. Walking Matters, which opens the CD, works well as an introduction, but it's the three long pieces that follow (H.O.I, Tectonic Re-Birth and Multi Salsa, the last with a very good performance by guest artist Pasquale Innarella on French horn) that bring the process to its full fruition.

The key element to this transformation is (acoustic and electrified) drummer and percussionist Fabrizio Spera, whose work here widens the available options. Spera makes good use of his considerable background in the fields of "acoustic" improvisation - hence, the multiplication of sources, with a great deal of attention to timbre - and of "electroacoustics", a field he explores with the group Ossatura. He's extremely good when acting as a "propulsive" element (obviously this is not music which calls for a conventional "rhythm section"), but it's in his colouristic role that he really shines.

The album was competently engineered by Stefano Vivaldi and intelligently mixed by Bob Drake and the group. The mixing is excellent: it creates very different - and extremely well-detailed - sonic planes, builds contrasts and alters the instrumental proportions, which sometimes sound "wrong"; this is obviously not a "photographic" use of the studio: in this respect, this album is quite far from jazz, and much more similar to an "evolved rock" album or to some modern classical. (Funny thing: the CD remained quite impenetrable to me til I turned up considerably the volume on my amplifier.)

The fifth track, Taliba Orgena, works somewhat as a timbral transitional point, since the last three tracks bring us back to the more usual and (relatively speaking!) simple Blast we already know, with those electric bass/baritone sax unisons and a relatively more conventional rhythm section work.

Pretty curious to see what'll happen next, pretty curious about the way the group will perform this material in concert. Obviously, this is not an album to be filed under "easy", but it will surely repay the attention that - without a doubt - it requires.

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2003 | June 10, 2003