As part of his continuing quest to be a jack of all trades and a master of everything, drummer Seb Rochford has now teamed up with American theremin player Pamelia Kurstin for a duo collaboration of uncompromising vigour. This is improvised music in a general sense, with links to breakbeat and techno as much as to jazz. Kurstin has released solo work on John Zorn‘s Tzadik label as well as collaborating with the likes of Foetus.
Admirers of Polar Bear‘s dual saxophone front line will miss that group’s sense of space and timing but this project offers something rather different. Ouch Evil Slow Hop is a series of experiments with timbre and sound – and a clever blend of the acoustic and the electronic.
Kurstin deftly avoids all theremin cliches – in fact, for most of this short album, it’s hard to determine what instrument is actually being played. Perhaps because she began her musical life as a jazz bassist, she seems more preoccupied with the lower frequency range of her instrument. There are few signs of the high-pitched spectral presence usually associated with the theremin. Instead, her sound is often hard-hitting or abrasive.
The album’s title is a composite of the four individual pieces that form the album (Ouch is divided into two parts and Evil into three). Unusually for improvised music, the pieces are relatively short and intensely concentrated. There is a strong focus on display here, in music that could easily have meandered for much greater distances. Not only this, but the music here simply sounds fantastic. Perhaps this is to be expected given the involvement of Portishead‘s Adrian Utley in the mixing process.
Ouch I bursts out of the blocks in a rather violent manner. Kurstin’s sounds are brutal, imposing and futuristic, whilst Rochford’s drumming is appropriately intricate. He delivers a trademark awkwardly broken groove. Perhaps there is a hint of Venetian Snares or Squarepusher here but this music is very much the product of two human beings improvising together. It does not seem as if Rochford and Kurstin had any pre-determined plan and the results are all the more impressive for their flexibility and freedom.
Rochford impresses throughout with his variety of textures and intentions. On Slow, he plays largely with mallets, creating a very different sound and feel from the breakneck flurry of ideas compressed into Ouch. On Evil, he creates a sense of bristling, crackling menace that lives up to the piece’s title.
This music rarely sounds pleasant in a conventional sense. Rochford and Kurstin were clearly not aiming to produce something easy on the ear. It is, however, fearless and adventurous and never anything less than exciting. Both musicians have a superb ability to create tension and they allow each other the necessary space to play expressively and boldly.