Despite the genre’s name sounding definitive, free improv falls along a spectrum. At one end, there is loosely-structured improvisation. At the other, you have all-out spontaneity. Eris 136199, the second album from the sax and dual guitar trio of Han-Earl Park, Catherine Sikora, and Nick Didkovsky, operates toward the latter extreme. Recorded live during the group’s tour of Europe last year, the album offers 10 tracks of innovative sounds and textures.
It is strange to say this, but saxophonist Sikora’s playing is relatively familiar and grounded when compared to that of her bandmates. Of course, she is known as a monstrous extemporizer and fully explores the tonal features of her instrument. Many of her contributions are rapid-fire notes not unlike what one might expect from Anthony Braxton or David S. Ware. But she also stretches her palette into noisy blasts and extended techniques.
Didkovsky’s guitar playing is a modified version of the avant-metal that he was known for in mid-1990’s Doctor Nerve. His riffing and speed picking are more subtle, forming a base over which Sikora and Park further explore. But he is not afraid to bend a few notes and bring a jangling, twisting uneasiness to bear.
Park is the more outside of the two guitarists, with innovative fingerboard techniques and a nod or two toward Derek Bailey. There is nothing conventional about his playing, as he explores the tonal and expressive extent of his instrument. His contributions are both incidental and percussive, and seem to involve some degree of preparation (de-tuning?). Still, Didkovsky’s more unorthodox efforts collide with Park’s and the differences between the two melt away.
To that point, Eris 136199 is much more than deconstructivistic listening. Putting these three explorers together results in a surprising pleasant, if not angular and abstract, experience. Sikora and Didkovsky are a wonderful stylistic matchup – a sax player who is both aggressive and understated with a guitarist who seems to be fighting an internal battle of self-restraint. Park hangs around in the background, adding texture and an ephemeral context for their parts.
Great stuff and highly recommended.