Ernesto Diaz-Infante & Chris Forsyth - "Wires And Wooden Boxes" (Pax Recordings/Evolving Ear 2001, PR90252/EE03)
Rev.99 - "Turn A Deaf Ear" (Pax Recordings 2001, PR90251)
From Aural Innovations #17 (September 2001)
Here we have two new and very different releases featuring Ernesto Diaz-Infante and Chris Forsyth. Wires And Wooden Boxes is the second collaboration from the duo. I haven't heard the first (Left & Right), though that release was recorded with each musician on separate coasts, whereas Wires And Wooden Boxes resulted from the two being physically in the same studio.
Wires And Wooden Boxes could easily be subtitled "Adventures In Music And Sound", or perhaps even "The Sound Of Music", as the variety and combination of sounds are front and center stage across the CD's ten tracks. The promo sheet points out each musicians' approach to playing the guitar, with Diaz-Infante using extreme alternate tunings and various objects to elicit sounds from his acoustic guitar, and Forsyth using more conventional equipment like volume pedal and distortion box with his electric guitar. The result is that each musicians' contributions are easily distinguished from the other, which makes the beauty of the resulting music all the more apparent.
A few of the tracks pair piano and guitar, and while the guitar duo pieces tended to excite me the most, the piano/guitar track "Straight To It" is one of my favorites on the album. The two duel furiously with one another, building the pace and culminating in a wild out-jazz freakout. The music has an intense feel and I could see it working well with an appropriate theater piece.
Several of the guitar tracks are numbered "Acoustic/Electric" pieces. This is BUSY music and the players accomplish as much as an entire band. I can just see Ernesto's hands moving wildly over his acoustic guitar while Forsyth at times kicks out more discernable rock licks (though there's little that's conventional about them). Another one of my favorites is "Sound Is Good All The Time". Raking over what I gather are piano strings gives the music an orchestral feel, which provides a pleasant backdrop for the maddened parade of sounds, both guitars and percussion, that fly about. The pace and volume of the music shifts dramatically, and I think the quieter moments provide the most tension.
The real joy of these pieces is the way in which they straddle the line between the accessible and the abstract. There's really quite a bit about this music that is recognizable and friendly, making it easier to latch on to the variety of sounds, tones, bashes, and clangs that come together to create a set of cohesive pieces.
On the harsher, angrier, and more aggressive side is Rev. 99, a quartet of Diaz-Infante, Forsyth, g3 powerbook noise musician Akio Mokuno, and ranting poet and sax player 99 Hooker. The promo sheet provides an interesting description of the recording as "environmental improvisation", which attempts to deal with the difference between recorded music and live performance.
Music like this is certainly always better appreciated in live performance, especially as regards a performer like 99 Hooker who I'd not heard of prior to Turn A Deaf Ear. Hooker's anguished rants immediately brought to mind Bobcat Goldthwaite (voice and speech patterns), but the comedian Bobcat is just silly whereas 99 Hooker communicates an enraged passion. But the rants added to the grating guitars and bleeping electronics made for an intriguing combination of contrasts, and when Ernesto plays piano the jazzy style makes for an even more noticeable contradiction that works well with the noisier sounds. Guitars and sax often go off on wild noise jams while the piano remains in it's own jazz jamming realm. These contrasts are most noticeable on "Olde Tyme Unnatural Rock n' Roll", where we get shades of Bob Segar, though only after the entire press run of his best selling hits have been run through a meat grinder. Hooker goes manic on the rants backed by pleasant jazzy piano and subtle noise bits.
One of my favorite tracks is "Your Title Here", a beautifully chaotic blend of guitars, piano, and electronics. Quirky jazz piano and out-acid guitars duke it out while the electronics swirl about. "Possum Ridge Paralyzer" is a tense 20 minute work in which Hooker does the demon thing while the guitars and electronics paint the eerie atmosphere around him. The surroundings are overwhelmingly dark and the intensity builds steadily throughout. Hooker also kicks out some interesting sax licks and I'd love to hear him take off a bit rather than just blasting out the brief teasers that he does.
In some ways Turn A Deaf Ear is similar to the music heard on Wires And Wooden Boxes but with an avant improv theatrical acid rock edge. There are some excellent instrumental moments and these proved to be the strongest parts for this listener as the vocal rants didn't always work for me. But overall a fine pair of recordings featuring Diaz-Infante and Forsyth hat I enjoyed hearing back to back.
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Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz