Michael Foster – saxophones
Andrew Barker – drums
Tim Dahl – bass
Recorded live at TAUT, Stuttgart, 15th November 2015
Necio Records NR-010
If I was ever in charge of the free jazz-noise-drone apocalypse, then I’d commission the Barker Trio to provide the soundtrack as the closing credits roll on our questionable civilisation. If you want a couple of touchstone references, then start with Albert Ayler and Zu and go from there.
TAUT (which apparently stands for Temporary Artists Utopia Tool) is a project space / gallery / installation / meeting point / performance venue in Stuttgart. The Barker Trio performed and recorded there in November 2015 and somehow the ‘tapes’ found their way to Necio Records in Lima, Peru.
Right from the start, Dahl’s chthonic bass is engaged in an elastic time-keeping rhythmic role, but in a far from traditional sense: stuttering, shuddering, throbbing waves of distorted low-end sound. Foster’s sax is metallic and abrasive, a relentless procession of blurts and truncations that entrance and punish in equal measure. Meanwhile, Barker’s percussive contribution is a tattered blanket of clatter, shreds of rhythm torn and reassembled afresh. If all that sounds chaotic, it isn’t. Well, not entirely. Though the first 10 minutes or so has precious little silence or pause, the joint sound that coalesces has a clarity and separation despite its density.
Of course, 70+ minutes of this would soon pall, and after this initial foundation, an organic flow (or even structure) emerges. Space is made for solo and duo contributions: a mournful, almost despairing bass soliloquy; a high-timbre rock-tinged drum outing (that briefly and unaccountably reminds me of Ginger Baker); drawn-out splashes of sax colour, a sharp and serrated tone that shifts to staccato breath manipulation. There’s even one part – constant bass drone, delicate metallic percussion, and a more woody texture to the sax – that awakes a Buddhist temple vibe. And while this varied but constantly intense (one might even say, taut) exploration continues throughout TAUT and into the first 13 minutes of LOOSE, after a smattering of audience appreciation, the mood suddenly becomes more impressionistic and subaquatic; the sense of acceleration is gone, as if having arrived at the destination, Foster, Dahl and Barker are now intent on disinterring the landscape, one sound at a time.
It’s intense, it grips, and it has more than enough dynamic variation to avoiding numbing the ear. At times there is genuine dialogue between the three instruments, at others, they’re each in turn supported as they explore a particular effect or concept. Constantly pushing to the very edge of overload before easing off a little to allow you to catch your breath – loud, aggressive, and sensitive and thoughtful. Highly recommended when you want some strong meat in your headphones.
“Live in Stuttgart” is available via Bandcamp.