Shih Shih Wu Ai

Was Zen invented by someone whose ordinary brain was not able to control simultaneity, then the concept evolved until the truths went upside down? Perhaps. Where do we place artists who, on the contrary, manage to exploit those unstoppable concomitances while curtailing half-witted statements? These were questions that came to mind during repeated listens of this pair of recordings from 2007, captured by Milo Fine at the West Bank School Of Music in Minneapolis and constituting a treasure trove of impolitic improvisations that are unlikely to resemble anything you’ve heard. This is quite obvious, given Fine’s relentless research of instrumental solutions that occasionally may appear periphrastically tortuous yet – upon attentive scrutiny – are just the logical computation of a series of simpler flashes and intuitions that the priests of fake silence might find blasphemous. It’s actually a testimony of an unadulterated creative spark’s liveliness, not generated by aesthetical needs but by the urge to say something unusual and – possibly – intelligent.

The Ensemble’s basic nucleus sees the boss and Steve Gnitka (on guitar) as permanent presences; in the first “Chunk” they’re accompanied by keyboardist Jason S. Shapiro, in the second by another guitarist, Charles Gillett. Over 76 minutes, the things that happen are countless, some of them rather memorable such as the advanced piano duet that characterizes a phase in the early portion of the opening set, preceded by intriguing fretwork by Gnitka (a free jazz so “free” that they dare to play chords, no less…). Also noteworthy is the group’s attention to the relationships between animosity, sheer searching and relative quietness; there are parts in “Contiguous Chunk 2” that would make renowned practitioners of – cough, gasp – EAI envious for their capacity of evoking thoughtful moods without the stylish offensiveness associated with posturing. The supervisor’s trademark Tourette-like rolling on the drums and clarinet altercations are naturally in display; please, don’t fail to notice the healthy unconcern for useless manifestos and the lucidity of almost every figure played – even those running at 200 mph (Milos Per Hour?). The scent of a welcome freshness (attesting the unsuitableness of this music for parochial internet discussions) hits our nostrils throughout, and it feels great. Latecomers interested in different species of resourceful interplay can start from here or, alternatively, have a shot at Ananke on Emanem; either way, pretending to overlook Milo Fine in the history of contemporary improvisation is a disheartening subterfuge.

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