Improvisation is not dead yet

Bloor seem to be consistent to the extreme – playing with verve and freshness, avoiding routine. Drolleries show that the point of departure and listening to each other are key, together with a form that is not excessively long, so as not to become tiring. This is a vibrating and resonating album, which combines the anger of punk with a courageous look at jazz, repetitions, raw sound and improvisation. 

Translation: Aleksandra Szkudłapska

The first encounter with the world of improvised music brings with it a feeling of freshness, newness, and following the unknown. You discover a wealth of compositions (or ways of making music) that no longer have to be carefully arranged and structured, with musicians exploring unknown paths, reacting to what’s happening at the given moment and listening to each other – irrespective of whether this is jazz, rock, or electronica; long, meditative forms or short pieces, attacking the listener with their precision and involvement. However, with time the umbrella term of “improvisation” became somewhat hackneyed, and what it stood for seemed to grow a little pale. On the one hand, not everyone can be Phil Minton, Evan Parker or Han Bennink. On the other, at one point “improvisation” began to mean anything and everything, often turning into a set scheme or even an established genre. All this led me to approach new improvised or free-jazz pieces with considerable distance – a

distance New York’s trio Bloor made me lose altogether (I was truly in awe of their album Drolleries even when only one track from it was available online). The record is described as “jazz”, but I’m tempted to add more labels: improvisation, punk, noise, maybe even the fragmented repetitiveness typical of minimalism and folk. Sam Weinberg (saxophones, e.g. Little Women), Andrew Smiley (guitar, e.g. Happy Place, Little Women) and Jason Nazary (percussion, e.g. Little Women, Chris Pitsiokos Quartet, Anteloper) deliver a fresh, killer sound, at the same time consistently and diligently realizing Weinberg’s idea, his spiritus movens.

On Drolleries, I hear musicians that play so close to each other, almost at arm’s length, as if they were tied with a string – all of them depend on each other and react to what’s happening while retaining full creative freedom. In one of the interviews Weinberg talks about the composing ideas for repetitions, which often form the group’s point of departure, later delving into a mayhem of improvisation and mutual enlargement of the sound field. This is improvisation with a distinct and structured starting point, which the musicians transform as they see fit. Throughout almost the entire album, the three of them go neck and neck, which comes across thanks to the really good production of the material: the highly resonating saxophone moves to the foreground, with the delicate, punk guitar right next to it, together with the brilliantly employed drum kit. If there’s any trace of quasi-folk, it’s in the opening of “Bast” or in “Mollycoddled”, where everyone plays shoulder to shoulder only to leave the set out path behind. The latter of the aforementioned pieces features an amazing – and quite drastic – twist of the plot: the overwhelming intro quietens down, though retaining the dense sound. There’s no space for solo show-offs here, though there are moments when the pieces begin with one of the musicians (saxophone in “The Croy Hours”, vibrating guitar in “A1”, restless drums in “J1”) – an inspiring intro, with the other musicians following through. This approach is markedly different to pumping one’s ego.

There’s no manner of overdoing it – the relatively short pieces, intense (look at the titles!), but evocative in form and narrative, keep enchanting me with each listen. Bloor seem to be consistent to the extreme – playing with verve and freshness, avoiding routine. Drolleries (the word meaning decorative motifs in Gothic manuscripts, characterized by their fantastic, humorous, grotesquely deformed and caricatural motifs – an apt choice for the title) show that the point of departure and listening to each other are key, together with a form that is not excessively long, so as not to become tiring. This is a vibrating and resonating album, which combines the anger of punk with a courageous look at jazz, repetitions, raw sound and… improvisation. And since I’ve come back to it, let me tell you something else: the thing with improvisation is that it’s often best enjoyed life, losing its resonance and wit on a recorded album. This is not the case with Drolleries – I’ve not seen Bloor live, but I’ve listened to the record more than ten times in a row, discovering new aspects of it with each listen. There’s no way I’m getting tired of it. This is brilliant stuff.

Bloor, Drolleries, Astral Spirits.