El Pricto (alto sax, clarinet)
Ferran Besalduch (bass & soprano saxes)
Ángel Faraldo (no-input mixer)
Enric Ponsa (drums)

I love Robadors 23 but it’s just too conveniently close and there’s more to Barcelona’s free/experimental music scene than El Raval. And so, we (the royal ‘we’ – ahem) travel to Gràcia. Soda is a venue on Carrer de les Guilleries and scores double ‘hipster points’ for the 50s America retro furnishings and a sound system that relies on vinyl records. But, the disc in question was 1956’s “Cookin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet” and it does play host to a weekly session from Discordian Records, so all things considered, let’s get to the music…

The bass saxophone is an unwieldy instrument both physically and sonically. Luckily Besalduch is bear enough to carry it off, roaring and galumphing through an intro that has the first row of listeners blown back in their seats. El Pricto’s alto flutters and buzzes around the jagged edges and frenzied drums keep everything in the air. But what of the mixer? It’s subtle, and it mostly remains so throughout, adding faint throbbing low-end thunder to the soundscape (making the others riders on the storm?) – not intrusive but just enough to alter the atmosphere, reminiscent of earlier, more restrained, experiments in electronic music from the 60s. The sparse disjointed alto, the length of chain rattling on the drumhead, the faint droning of the mixer, all combine to create a taut atmosphere, pushing at the limits of control but never exceeding them.

The second piece begins with edge-of-a-glass whines from Faraldo and Ponsa’s cymbal scrapes, plus a few of El Pricto’s trademark demented pig noises and Besalduch switches to soprano for some ululating, fugitive sounds. Bizarrely, the result is a thing of delicate beauty, crafted from individually ugly components (this, my friend, is the Discordian way).

It’s been suggested to me that free improvisation is simply a musician’s sketchbook, a chance to test and try out new ideas and techniques. I’m sure that is a part of the truth, but it’s hardly all. Maybe a recording can be difficult to access, but live, it becomes clear that this is a valid form of sonic expression in its own right. Dynamic, degenerately unpredictable, zen-like in its link to a momentary present and a chance to attend at the birth of a unique and fleeting experience.
All in all, a slightly otherworldly take on the improvisatory experience, assisted by the no-input mixer which occasionally adds a subtle cheesy science fiction vibe, like a fresh soundtrack to Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles.

Soda, we (I) will be back…