AMN Reviews: The Spanish Donkey – Raoul (2015; Rare Noise Records)

SD_RAOUL_15001500_300DPI copyA Spanish donkey is a torture device, common throughout the American colonial period and the hundred or so years thereafter. But in experimental music circles, it signifies the trio of Joe Morris on electric guitar, Jamie Saft on minimoog and piano, and Mike Pride on drums. This, the group’s second recording, provides 70 minutes of rapid-paced, brutal aggression that puts power in the term “power trio.”

Morris’s guitar is distorted and discordant, taking the forefront for the self-titled first track. Over thirty minutes long, this piece is just plain rude and in your face. Morris uses a distinct style, that is unlike his more familiar, clean, jazz-based lines. Here, he plays outside to create tensions, without ever hitting a note that seems wrong. Additionally, he makes heavy use of an array of effects pedals, most notably wah-wah, delay, and echo. The second track, Behavioral Sink, features a heavier emphasis on Saft’s chording, providing ominous tones, with Morris grinding in the foreground, but in a less dominant role. Particularly, Saft sweeps the keys, providing background drones, bass elements, and counterpoints Morris with a cleaner sound. On the final track, Dragon Fly Jones, Morris returns to the forefront with shifting walls of distortion, while Saft offers rolling piano motifs,  Throughout, Pride’s drumming punctuates the mix, somewhere between progressive metal and New York jazz.

The Spanish Donkey by Vanessa SaftAbout this recording, Morris stated, “I’m trying to make what I think is unique music, and that’s not easy.” While one could try to classify his approach on Raoul as “Lou Reed meets free jazz” or some other such amalgam, too much is lost in the description. Always a powerhouse player, Morris in particular shows his mastery, covering wide swathes of new ground. Loaded with tension but without much release, Morris leads this trio through a torturous path, but one that is ultimately rewarding and not without its own special brand of beauty.