Black Host

Life In the Sugar Candle Mines
Northern Spy NS 039

Taking another shot at stretching improvised music’s boundaries is New York super group Black Host, which brings to boil inflections from Free Jazz, modal improvising, electronics, Thrash Rock and ProgRock to forge its own sound. Overall, nuanced friction could be described as the performance mode here.

With all tracks but two credited to drummer Gerald Cleaver, who is also listed as contributing sound design, Cleaver obviously had a major influence on the end product. Yet as a drummer who has worked with players as different as saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell and trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, he obviously has wide-ranging interests. Ditto for guitarist Brandon Seabrook, who is sometimes found in Rock settings, and piano and synthesizer player Cooper-Moore, who when not working with the likes of bassist William Parker, creates his own version of roots music on home-made instruments. Meantime alto saxophonist Darius Jones and bassist Pascal Niggenkemper are busy jazzers.

Between Cleaver’s sound design with perhaps electronic percussion attachments and Cooper-Moore’s synthesizer slurs, a constant sheen of signal processing is present throughout most of the eight tracks. Then again there are instances during which Black Host resembles a Rock band as well, especially when Cleaver and Niggenkemper lock into a backbeat and the guitarist comes forward with shredding licks. This style, plus multi-string reverb is front-and-centre on “Amsterdam/Frames” which is close to being a Seabrook feature. But that doesn’t mean that Cooper-Moore neglects sweeping piano lines as the others try out their noise-making abilities.

Considering that Cooper-Moore’s dynamic piano style is somewhat reminiscent of Cecil Taylor’s it would seem that the stirring “Ayler’s Children” would better have been titled “Cecil’s Children”. As the keyboardist darts, octave jumps and pounds percussively, the other front-liners manage to create a harmonized undertow before splintering into different directions as the piano solo picks up speed. Soon Jones and Seabrook are playing at different vectors and introducing novel ideas. Still despite the reedist’s harsh bites and the guitarist’s cutting frails and snaps, the chromatic form remains constant. On other tracks the band can be moodily amorous like on the concluding “May be Home”. With Cooper-Moore’s chords almost constantly romantic and Jones’ heavy vibrato nearly heart-wrenching, Niggenkemper relaxes into a spare accompanying role. Together the band creates the outlines of a tune that is as atmospheric as it is aleatory.

Together these quick a shifts from ethereally linear to percussively throbbing and on to the creation of cacophonous sound shards are what makes Life In the Sugar Candle Mines so engrossing. But these swerves also prevent the quintet from establishing a distinct identity. At points it appears as if the longer the track, the more influences are heard. As it stands, Life In The Candle Mines is an audacious debut. Now Black Host has the more crucial task of forging a distinct group identity.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Hover 2. Ayler’s Children 3. Citizen Rose 4. Test-Sunday 5. Amsterdam/Frames 6. Gromek 7. Wrestling 8. May Be Home

Personnel: Darius Jones (alto saxophone); Cooper-Moore (piano and synthesizer); Brandon Seabrook (guitar); Pascal Niggenkemper (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums and sound design)