Jim Black & Alasnoaxis: Antiheroes

With his underrated (and unexpected) acoustic trio album Somatic, featuring Austrian pianist Elias Stemeseder and bassist Thomas Morgan, drummer-composer Jim Black revealed a new side of his talent. Lean and roomy but with sharp strokes, the music was closer to the edgy ruminations of the Bad Plus and the Vijay Iyer Trio than the sonic outpourings of Black’s longstanding electric quartet, AlasNoAxis. With Antiheroes, perhaps that band’s most toned-down effort, Black solidifies his standing as one of the most distinctive lyrical voices on the cutting-edge scene.

That’s a notable development for an artist whose early reputation derived from his loose-limbed percussive power in the service of such leaders as Tim Berne, Dave Douglas and Ellery Eskelin, and the noise-rock Black embraced with AlasNoAxis.Antiheroes is not without its atmospherically charged moments-hints of King Crimson tantalizingly escape on tunes like the dark, throbbing “Marguay.” But the art-rock influences aren’t defining statements here; more often, as on pensive tunes such as “Antihero” and “Sun San,” they’re introduced to set off the airy melodies conjured by Black and company.

On their sixth album together, Black, tenor saxophonist and clarinetist Chris Speed, guitarist Hilmar Jensson and bassist Skúli Sverrisson forge a seamless, unified sound. At times, Jensson’s textured playing suggests a darker and weightier Bill Frisell, while at others, his electronic ripples reflect Black’s patterned playing. Sverrisson is one of the few bassists who combine rhythmic and atmospheric effects with equal aplomb. More than a collection of tracks, Antiheroes comes off like a single work, reflective and powerfully spare.