Phantom City

Shiva Recoil — Live/Unlive
Virgin / AMBT21

Paul Schütze / keyboards and tapes, Raoul Björkenheim / guitar, Toshinori Kondo / trumpet, Alex Buess / bass clarinet, Bill Laswell / bass, Dirk Wachtelaer / drums.

Paul Schütze’s work has the kind of directionlessness which might have lead him into the isolationist flotation tank. Certainly, he shares with those more austere practitioners — Thomas Köner, Zoviet*France, Jim O’Rourke et al — an obsession with texture and a suspicion of traditional conceptions of form, but Schütze has long augmented this with real-time improvisation and a kind of go-nowhere pulse reminiscent of Can’s Jacki Liebezeit.

Here, he directs a live performance by previous collaborators, most of whom appeared on last year’s towering Site Anubis but who contributed by tape (as a “virtual band”) rather than by playing together. The result is immediately more accessible, a kind of fractured funk unable to wholly escape the shadow of Miles Davis’ 70s revolution. The presence of the towering Bill Laswell contributes to this quality, his fretless bulging out of the group sound as the de facto leader, even if Schütze is conducting from the back with his often subliminal pre-recorded textures.

The two pieces are free-improvised but mostly fall into a solo-plus-accompaniment paradigm, although nothing stays still for very long. As ever, there are transcendent events, and periods of treading water; fortunately, this band treads water more elegantly than most.

Raoul Björkenheim has an admirable stab at making distorted electric guitar sound interesting, and seems to play a lot more than either Alex Beuss (a good choice to sub for Coxhill) or Toshinori Kondo. The latter sometimes sounds like an ersatz Dave “Masada” Douglas here, but this is hardly a recording to judge him on and he judiciously opts for a textural role rather than grandstanding. At the best moments, these three merge into a single instrument — Beuss seems almost to be playing through some kind of filter, so thin and trebly is his bass clarinet, and his penchant for split harmonics blends especially closely with the guitar.

Meanwhile, Dirk Wachtelaer handles trap set responsibilities brilliantly in the more Schützian passages which drift on a rolling pulse, less brilliantly when the electronics whip the band into pounding four-square funk. In these latter passages, his ability to listen sometimes gives way to rather buttoned-down prog-rock riffs and tricksy fills, but this is a minor complaint when so much of this recording is as rhythmically involving as it is. The final minutes comprise an ecstatic percussion dual between Wachtelaer and Schütze in which the two become indistinguishable, taking the concept of the drum solo and turning it inside out — exactly the kind of thing Schütze does best.

Perhaps inevitably, this on-stage incarnation of Schütze leaves some of the magic at the studio door. In his previous work, live acoustic music-making shades imperceptibly into electronics — it seems to take as a theme the blurring of those boundaries, and the question mark which hovers over free improv values like sponteneity and interaction. On stage, there is a muso gleam, and too sharp a division of labour. Comparisons aside, however, this is as enjoyable an album of electrified jazz as will come out all year and a gentle introduction to Schütze’s sometimes forbidding sound-world. Richard Cochrane