Flanked by a pair of stalwarts who, in his own words, “have a history going back over thirty years”, guitarist Terrence McManus brings the right attitude and a considerable number of no-frills approaches to an instrument that, especially in jazz, has the potential to become the mother of all commonplaces. On the contrary, ever since the opening track “Written In The Cracking Of The Ice”, an unexpected subversion slashes the ears: not a clean pitch in sight, clumsily introverted structures succeeding one after another until the density is spread in different directions at once, a slanted kind of disdainful lyricism ultimately achieved. Instead, “Upperside” sounds like Bill Frisell’s vibrato bar constantly bumped upon by a stumbling drunkard, with added pepper. McManus shows an obstinate, nearly obsessive concise incisiveness, Helias and Hemingway finely sustaining him by shifting the dynamics from classic swing to near-absence of pulse in a matter of instants. Remote echoes of John Scofield appear in certain bluesy phrases during “Junction”; but the most intriguing chapter is perhaps “Products Of Primes”, in which the guitar remains camouflaged under strata of rubbing noises throughout the piece’s first half, before gargling with venomous intentions across the remainder of the improvisation.
All of the above notwithstanding, the album is characterized by a substantial balance between strident dissonance and absolute enjoyableness. McManus picks and plucks in unusual places, with musicality to spare and in thoroughly dissimilar contexts. The clever alternance of grimy and semi-polished tones makes sure that one’s never welcome with smiles and open arms; however, the trio is positively willing to engage the listener in an efficient interaction, typified by Hemingway’s challenging elasticity in terms of metres (and relative dissolution) and Helias’ hypersensitive class. At times, tics and neuroses are ably contained by a relatively subdued interplay (case in point, “The Radio Astronomers”), the disembowelling of a lone snippet always preferred to gormless Pindaric flights. Three artists unafraid of letting people look at their deviations enriching a record permeated by a healthily explorative temperament.