Reviewed by: Geno Thackara
Put three guys in a studio. Have them pick up their instruments. Start recording. Well, sometimes that’s as far as the recipe needs to go. It can be sort of like a good TV hangout comedy – even when there isn’t a structured plot, it’s a delight to just hear the group sit down and bounce off each other for a while. Free improvisation is one specialty for Philadelphia’s homegrown 1k Recordings label, and its mastermind Tim Motzer and friends never seem to get tired of surprising themselves. The newest project Orion Tango is a power trio (emphasis on “power”) that just loves an Eastern-style groove.
“Free” of course can mean different things good or bad, depending on your taste. In this case it fortunately isn’t a sign of random tunelessness to grate on the ears. It just means there was no advance planning (apart from maybe deciding on a key beforehand) and any forms emerge on the spot. With the big epic centerpiece of “Gravity Knife” they still manage to build a dynamic structure throughout, from tin-can percussion interlude to loud crashing finale, and make it sound as if the whole thing was planned out from the start. It’s just the kind of “wow, where did that come from?” moment that this crew is all about.
Jeremy Carlstedt reflects the influence of his mentor Chico Hamilton with a touch of Elvin Jones; he’s the kind of drummer who makes sure you always feel the pulse even when getting a little tricky around the edges. Combined with Barry Meehan’s supple jungle-dub bass lines, the two make a compelling murky trance to give Motzer’s restless juiced-up guitar plenty of space to wail. In a couple spots he does go for noise over notes, but it doesn’t get too harsh for my taste. Mostly it provides just the right level of voltage the pieces demand. But even though he gets the obvious solos, it’s clearly a partnership where everyone’s equally important. It all makes for the most trippy, spacy tango you could probably ever expect to hear.