Mike Caratti, Rachel Musson & Steve Beresford – Hesitantly Pleasant / Musicianer – Slow Learner (Iluso Records)

Iluso Records was established in 2013, releasing avant-garde jazz and metal. Their two most recent releases are an exercise in contrasting approaches to music-making.

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Hesitantly Pleasant’ is by a trio of Rachel Musson (saxophones), Steve Beresford (piano and electronics) and Mike Caratti (drums and percussion). Moving between violent ruffling and amenable weaving, the elements making up this group’s sound are diversely welded throughout the duration of this release.

The opening title track beings appropriately cautiously, Rachel Musson bouncing parps off the sound of somone scrabbling about on a floor for an endless stream of small-change escaping their pockets. The band thereafter quickly meld into thickly rubbed crayon rainbows of sound. Mike Caratti’s drum a rapid clatter, counterpointed by Beresford’s prepared piano scribblings and Musson’s wonderful stitching of the two with big long curls of burring bass and sharp pops nailing rapidly evolving and elastic temporary structures in place. The saxophone playing is the key to this often fractious exchange, Musson weaving the chaotic web that the other players tussle on; deftly weaving around the combative exchange between the piano and percussion.

 

‘A Unique Haircut’ is a highlight, an initially almost-stable wobbly blues that explodes out into violent weirdness. Sounding like a creature fidgeting itself into a different state. An itch-scratching dog transforming into a filing cabinet. Surreal transformations abound on this never-settling tumult of an album.

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The listener is in a different place entirely within a minute of ‘Slow Learner’ beginning. Composed where the other album was improvised, it’s no less exploratory and diverse. Bandleader, Josh Sinton (baritone sax) is joined by Jason Ajemian (bass) and Chad Taylor (drums) to form the band Musicianer. This project has allowed Sinton to write songs for two players who he has a long musical history with. Covering a large space of sonic ground: from the soulful poignancy and brushed drums of ‘Can’t Really Say’ to the more funkily energetic ‘And Then It Came To Me.’ The interplay between the musicians is supple and flexible, complex rhythms are cut through with slicing arcs and scurrying scrawls from the sax. Tight riffing drifts into more abstract territory. Languid songs segue into others more declamatory and pointed. ‘Sunday’s Rehearsal’ conjures this binary perfectly, bouncing beats and a sleepy melody wander into twinkling ambient passages with echoing music-box-like lullaby and bowed heavy-lidded bass. ‘Evening of Mourning (Ferguson Goddam)’ is more fiercely expressed with Stinton curling off the beat into sparking electric solos. ‘Pork Bueno’ shows off the composer’s chops with an infectiously catchy sax tune, coasting over pointillist drum taps and rumbling bass. ‘Slow Learner’ is an example of great jazz song writing, its complexity never becoming bogged down and stodgy, a vivid sense of fun and frolic all over it.

 

Improvisation and composition; abstraction and direction; order and chaos; Iluso is ably straddling the divide with these two albums.

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