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Survival Unit III: Joe McPhee, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Michael Zerang: Synchronicity

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The first for the label Harmonic Convergence to come in an edition of three hundred is Synchronicity by the trio, Survival Unit III. Joe McPhee leads the group on alto saxophone and alto clarinet. Fred Lonberg-Holm plays cello and electronics. Michael Zerang is on drums. The set was recorded at The Hideout in Chicago in 2007.

The three musicians recognize before themselves the space in which to wrap their own sounds around that of the others without conflict or disorientation. The music is concerned with finding common ground, intersecting, separating and merging again in a very unconventional way. In the first cut, for example, a cackling 20 minute journey grounds itself in the hugeness of Zerang’s mallet to tom and bass drum sound about half-way through at which point Lonberg-Holm and McPhee focus on shaping a coherent melody that bursts out of its skin again by the end of the piece.

McPhee’s alto often dominates, its tone deepening and peaking with artful one-note trills or controlled mid-range alto arpeggios; the surges, sparks, and shrill and mournful wails respond to dissonant scrapes of the bow across the cello strings or backdrop clanging on the drums. Sometimes, the alto clarinet and cello imitate similar tempos and gestures such that one instrument cannot be distinguished from another. The burly boldness of Zerang’s rhythm construction often commands the soundscape. Lonberg-Holm inserts either wonderfully playful nature-like electronic elements or hard-line bow twisting cacophony that is singularly fascinating and totally sensible in the assertion of his individual contributions to the collective sound.

These superb musicians are not only challenging themselves to negotiate the microcosmic vortex that they create within the four pieces on this record, but also are demonstrating the nerve, the stamina and the downright tenacious intention that must pervade the performance.

Originally Published