ECM couldn’t have picked more radical and freewheeling music for the label’s return to releasing new projects on vinyl. Nothing makes linear sense on Antenna, a six-song EP by David Virelles, available exclusively as a record or digital download. The pianist, who plays six different electric and acoustic keyboards here, uses the idea of Afro-Cuban rhythms as the foundation of these tracks. But the results include electronic percussion, waves of synths, vocals that approach freestyle rap and an overarching ambiance that give the whole enterprise the energy of a fever dream.
Opening and closing tracks “Binary” and “Text” are attributed to Los Seres, a fictional percussion group which is actually electronics programmed by Virelles. The delightful clattering layers of polyrhythms recall some of Sun Ra’s percussive forays, accentuated by the raw fidelity of field recordings—a sharp sonic choice by Virelles and producer Alexander Overington. “Water, Bird Headed Mistress” changes gears, with Henry Threadgill gently improvising over synthesizer arpeggios on alto saxophone. After that lulling interlude, “Threshold” moves to a surrealist soundscape with shrieking cello scrapes, live drums and samples from Marcus Gilmore, disembodied voices and a bed of keyboards that rises and falls in waves. After Etián Brebaje Man’s gravelly spoken-word-cum-rap performance atop the choppy beat of “Rumbakuá,” Virelles finally gives himself a chance to stretch out on “El Titán de Bronce.” But in addition to stretching, his instruments bend, flex and finally melt in the fadeout. Antenna often sounds more like sound sculptures than written music, and in that sense of adventure is its staying power.