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25 November 2010

Rhys Chatham - 'Factor X' (Moers Music)

We have reached post #200, this early LP by Rhys Chatham which I've always enjoyed for it's bleak walls of seamless surfaces. Side one is the real monster, 'For Brass', written for 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, a tuba and a percussionist. We get Anton Fier banging the skins, and because of this it feels like a product of the early 80's New York new/no-wave scene. Despite the dissonant layers of the brass instruments it could pass for a nihilistic, bleak rock group. Olu Dara and George Lewis play on this, and it's a way I've never heard them before. Trumpets have the tonal range to cut through all of the dark layers (which seem to be built from the 'bones) so you get these moments of hurtling through a giant sheet of waxed paper, only to be caught in another net for awhile. It's mesmerising. Side two starts with 'Guitar Ring', which has echoes of 'All World Cowboy Romance' and the obvious Branca comparisons. Moers Music did a nice job on the mastering so this does ring really well. I can't decide if it would be more enjoyable without James Lo (of Live Skull fame) drumming throughout it. That would be certainly create a wider plane to stretch out on, but then the nervous pulse would be absent. And it's that pulse that really pulls this away from other minimalist explorers like Niblock, et al. Clean channel electric guitars always sound good to me, and the way that these sheets of glass crash around is enough mystery for me. Near the end a little riff peeks out, and y'know it wouldn't be out of place on a Burma record or even something more pop-oriented ... but it sinks back in before establishing any sort of anthemic tendency, and it's a nice detail. 'The Out of Tune Guitar #2' and 'Cadenza' fill out the LP. The former is a two minute rave-up that scatters sparks all over the place before fizzling out - it's pretty damn impressive, but it also sorta sounds like Polvo. 'Cadenza' draws out a long long single note pathway, allowing ghosting overtones to build up, with James Lo doing what rock drummers do in these situations. It's the other side of Chatham, one that is more open and gracious, but it's deceiving cause there's actually five guitars the slowly add to the pile until it cascades over the dusk. I don't think to pull this record out very much, cause the images and sensations I get from it (similar, I think, to Birdsongs of the Mesozoic) aren't something I think I'm in the mood for. But this doesn't disappoint on any level, and it's a nice contrast to the ten Don Cherry LPs that lie ahead.

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