Bret Hart + Jeff Mcleod - "Dynamic Negativism" (InstrumenTales Records 2002)
Bret Hart + Mika Rintala - "Aquariums I Have Been: Duets Volume One" (InstrumenTales Records 2002)
Bret Hart + Eric Wallack - "Duets Volume One" (InstrumenTales Records 2002)
Ken Hyder + Bret Hart - "Duets Volume One" (InstrumenTales Records 2002)

From Aural Innovations #22 (January 2003)

Bret Hart is continually on the lookout for interesting collaborations with fellow free-improv musicians, which he documents with his Duets series. Here's the lowdown on four of his most recent releases.

Bret Hart + Jeff Mcleod - "Dynamic Negativism"

Bret Hart's collaboration with Jeff Mcleod includes some of the most sonicly devastating recordings in the Duets catalog to date. I think Mcleod is responsible for much of the molten acid rock guitar jamming on the album, and it's a wild experience hearing someone rocking out and letting the acid burn up the fretboard while steadily measured free-improv percussion keeps a robotic pace. But that's the nature of the Duets series and this is a unique entry indeed. There's also a very cool avant power trio tune with Mcleod ripping it up on the guitar while Bret kicks out rolling bass lines and the percussion continually reminds us that we're at a place much stranger than the Fillmore. This is Rock music as you've likely not heard it before. And fans of sounds straight out of the UFO engine room will be pleased too, as there are oodles of alien electronic tracks to probe your brain with. Sure, there's lots of spaced out jamming, freaky cosmic electronics, and even some traditional heavy rock... but Hart & Mcleod manage to inject just enough avant-garde free-improvisation to make this decidedly NON-traditional, resulting in a rockin guitar and electronic set that will melt the ears of space freakout fans, while giving them an experience that is quite a ways off the beaten path.

Bret Hart + Mika Rintala - "Aquariums I Have Been: Duets Volume One"

Finnish musician Mika Rintala has been the subject of a fair bit of ink in Aural Innovations, having submitted several of his highly creative Verde releases which showcase Mika's many imaginative homemade instruments. Mika has notably also been a member of Circle and Ektroverde. But the thought of what a Bret/Mika pairing would produce sounded pretty tantalizing and indeed the results are interesting and often exciting. There's plenty of variety here. Strange spacey electronics and percussion workouts. (Check out the last track for a totally cosmic UFO ride!) Wailing rock guitar against pulsating drones. A few of the drones start off hypnotic, but gradually build in volume and power until it seems like your head might split. But the best moments are the banquet of sound symphonies, some of which have a dramatic feel and can get quiet intense. Mika contributes his trademark Verde avant space electronics which are combined with Bret's percussion, string manipulations and various other fun sounds. An excellent example of the Duets series' potential for bringing together contrasts and having them gel so nicely. LOTS to hear on this set. Multiple listens will be rewarded with new discoveries.

Bret Hart + Eric Wallack - "Duets Volume One"

Eric Wallack is an Ohio based free-improv musician whose Vermis CD we reviewed in AI #21 and Grendel CD we review this issue. Stylistically, Eric and Bret couldn't be better suited for a Duets collaboration and indeed they gel quite nicely on this set. There are five tracks on the CD, mostly in the 9-10 minute range so the duo take plenty of time to develop their individual parts or just jam. The set opens with "Fission-Fusion" which consists of prepared mandolin and acoustic guitar. I wonder if I played this for a group of free-improv fans and told them it was a Fred Frith/Derek Bailey duet how many would believe me? Not that Bret and Eric sound like Frith and Bailey but this is definitely in that realm. The two parts go together so nicely that it really does sound as if they were recording in the same room (this was a mail collaboration). "Babylon Revisited" includes acoustic guitar, electronics, percussion and Casio. A machine shop industrial vibe churns away while rock guitar and scattered percussion jam. Playful dancing electronics soon join in adding a child-like alien feel to the mix, which is mucho weird being that it's accompanied by heavy sonic avant-freakout guitars. This is a busy piece and the intensity level is high throughout. "Lomax Unwittingly Invents Rock and Roll" is probably - as the title suggests - the most Rock oriented track of the set, though it's in a decidedly avant free-improv style. I love the combination of the harsh guitar, drones, tribal percussion and woodflute. "Dick Brautigan" is a tasty bit of free-improv space jazz that features Pan-jo and pocket trumpet. Bret produces beautiful echoed pulsating tones with the Pan-jo, one of his many homemade instruments (CLICK HERE to see what it looks like). Finally, "A Stone Rolled Away" brought to mind John Fahey accompanied by howling space drones and a banquet of percussive sounds. Another odd but effective combination and some of the best playing on the album. Overall a fun and intriguing set.

Ken Hyder + Bret Hart - "Duets Volume One"

Bret really scored with this duet with Scottish drummer and Tuvan throat singer Ken Hyder. I'd never heard of Hyder before Bret enthused about him, but cruising his web site it's clear he's had an interesting and varied career. In addition to performing and traveling all over the world, he has collaborated with such luminaries as Tim Hodgkinson (Henry Cow), Elton Dean (Soft Machine), Nick Evans, Phil Minton, and many others. Bret's free-improv works are often heavy on the percussives so having an actual drummer participating is a treat. One of my favorite tracks is the spacey tribal free-jazz "Paltry Origin", with its steady drumming, playful piano, spacey efx, and whining howls. And I'm guessing the efx'd chanting is Hyder doing the throat singing thing. More of this singing style (along with some traditional Celtic song) can be heard on the 14 minute "Eurasian Chassis", which is a symphony of drum and percussion workouts. Another highlight is "Sibi Drone", which is not quite like the drone in the title would suggest. Hyder lays down some free-wheelin drumming while Bret conjures up some cool string manipulated sounds, all against a drifting wall of atmospherics and sedate background drones. An interesting set. There's a wealth of information at Ken Hyder's web site at: Be sure and read the account of his trip to Siberia with Tim Hodgkinson.

For more information you can visit the InstrumenTales Records web site at:
Contact via snail mail c/o Bret Hart; 428 Patrick Street; Eden, North Carolina 27288.

Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz

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