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CD Feature/ Jim Ryan's Forward Energy: "FE3 Portland" & "FE3 Oakland"

img  Tobias

The fear of Free Jazz is comparable to that of taking a Bungee Jump: One half of your brain tells you it could be the most exciting thing there is, the other demands you return to your safe home right away. So when Jim Ryan simultaneously releases two one-hour sets of full-throttle improvisations culled from sessions recorded last summer, this will have some people searching for cover right away. Which would be a shame and waste. Even though we definitely do not even want to suggest that “FE3 Oakland” and “FE3 Portland” are slight fare, they are, however, always the result of ensembles who are not interested in tearing all structures down, but in erecting new ones.

Unlike with other projects, this extends to the very foundations: The titles of these live sets are in fact also the names of two entirely different groups, whose sole binding factors are the implicit agreement that things can start and end anywhere. In Oakland, Ryan is accompanied by the almost onomatopoetical drum skills of Stephen Flinn, whose multicoloured rumblings seem less occupied with providing rhythm than with adding tonal colours. Likewhise, Scott R. Looney likes to play his piano from the inside next to his lightning speed keyboard manoeuvres on the outside - and thus the direct plucking of the strings, as well as their scratching and tearing with his fingers becomes just as important as a sense of harmonic grounding. This search for ethereal spaces as well as the absence of a dedicated bass instruments turn the music into a spacey and unpredictable experimental excursion without any surplus weight. In Portland, meanwhile, drummer Andrew Wilshulsen appears to enjoy the occasional shuffle once in while, which immediately makes the band endeavour more catchy. The same can be said for the mysterious ambient strokes of bassist Robert Jones, who loves to use a bow for his instrument, adding textures which have a strong string-section touch to them. In both cases, Jim Ryan is not a leader but part of machineries, which change with each track, adding short, poignant sax stabs in one only to revert to airy flute breathings on another. 

What differentiates him from the fold is his courage and ability to leave blank spaces in between his outbursts, allowing silence to do its work while preparing for a new salvo. While Oakland may have been more astral and sound-oriented and Portland slightly more traditional and juxtapositional, both sessions are remarkably unstressed and relaxed, giving the pieces time to develop and even indulge in the quiet moments for long periods of time. This allows even the less initiated listener to catch up with the action and to get rid of any initial reservations. After taking the bungee jump of these two albums, you’ll always want to come back for more.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Edgetone Records

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