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Black Host: Life in the Sugar Candle Mines

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Anyone who still thinks free jazz is unpleasant random noises needs to hear Life in the Sugar Candle Mines, 78 minutes of loosely structured but highly conceived music by some of the best in the avant-garde game. The quintet Black Host is alto saxophonist Darius Jones, guitarist Brandon Seabrook, pianist Cooper-Moore (also on synthesizer), bassist Pascal Niggenkemper and drummer Gerald Cleaver, who serves as the group’s leader and main composer. Seven of the nine “tunes” are his, one is a group improvisation and one is based on, of all things, one of Bartók’s Mikrokosmos pieces.

Things start with the sustained, guttural saxophone, severely bashed drums and smacked piano keys of the 16-minute “Hover,” and gradually this intentional mess evolves into a two-bar groove underpinned by a churning rhythm, throbbing bass pattern and piano-chord ostinato. Seabrook’s aggressive guitar, Jones’ searing sax and processed sounds overlay all this, and just as the music threatens to spin out of control it calms down into what could almost be described as jazz-rock-until, that is, it spirals away again. Despite its name, “Ayler Children” doesn’t sound like anything Albert would have played; it’s more bombastic, less melodic and faster.

There are quieter moments too. “Citizen Rose” lulls in a way that approaches the ambient genre, and “May Be Home” is almost pure drone. And some of what’s here is beautifully disturbing: the prog-metal-jazz of “Test-Sunday,” the machine-like industrial touches on “Gromek” and the twisted, noisy reinvention of Bartók’s “Wrestling.” Black Host is a free-jazz group with new ideas.

Originally Published