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Fay Victor’s SoundNoiseFunk: Wet Robots (ESP-Disk’)

Review of first album by free-jazz vocalist's new quartet

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Cover of Wet Robots album by Fay Victor's SoundNoiseFunk
Cover of Wet Robots album by Fay Victor’s SoundNoiseFunk

Vocal colossus Fay Victor has been performing otherworldly acrobatics with her pipes since the ’90s, as heard on fearless projects like her Ensemble’s Absinthe & Vermouth and The FreeSong Suite, and in groups that have paid homage to Ornette Coleman and Herbie Nichols. Now she’s scaled yet another peak: Wet Robots is her debut record as a leader for ESP-Disk’, and it’s a doozy. The supergroup that the improviser/lyricist calls SoundNoiseFunk—soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome, guitarist Joe Morris, and drummer Reggie Nicholson—is entirely deserving of its name; although the foursome had never played together before stepping into a Brooklyn studio for this project, their red-hot chemistry is evident from the get-go.

The blistering opening track, “Funky Dunk,” suggests Yoko Ono fronting a spiritually minded free-jazz outfit; Victor’s bluesy grunts and growls direct the glorious traffic of Morris’ dizzy bends, Newsome’s cathartic horn wails, and Nicholson’s all-over beats. It’s the perfect kickoff, setting a full-speed-ahead vibe. While tunes like “A Witness in the Wilderness,” “Textured Pines,” and “The Blues Are Always Free” showcase Victor’s throat wizardry and her band’s freakish penchant for keeping up with her, the more lyrical numbers add to the album’s sense of unpredictability. The rumbling “Information Highway” finds Victor railing against the evils of the Internet and Twitterverse; the spasmodic “Creative Folks!” is an impassioned ode to her fellow arty types; and on “I Sing,” Newsome and Nicholson establish a smoky barroom feel while Victor whispers her raison d’être: “I sing/I sing to be alive.” On Wet Robots, Fay Victor’s SoundNoiseFunk sound extraordinarily alive indeed.

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