Blast has been around for over 30 years in various forms – quartet, octet, and now a duo consisting of founding members Frank Crijns and Dirk Bruinsma. In addition to guitar, Crijns handles MIDI programming while Bruinsma plays saxes and vibes, and also contributes MIDI and percussion programming. If your first reaction is to turn up your nose at the notion of parts of this album being synthetically generated, I respectfully ask you to give it a try anyway because you are likely to be pleasantly surprised.
Blast represents a European style of RIO in which you can hear shades of Henry Cow and echoes of Zappa, as well as modern classical and free-jazz influences. Despite being pared down, Crijns and Bruinsma offer up a dense sound, with their signature lines of labyrinthine complexity, start-stop rhythms, and harsh staccato passages. With the programmatic assist on bass and percussion, this iteration of Blast resembles a quartet in sound. The four tracks that make up the album appear to be heavily composed but with a few improvisational breaks.
On my first few listens I did not even realize that half of the music was programmed. So if you are looking for something resembling Stringy Rugs or their earlier groundbreaking releases, Vortographs follows along the same philosophy but has a character of its own.
The album came out last year on ReR, and admittedly I totally missed it until the band members brought the release to my attention. But in the spirit of “better late than never”, Vortographs gets two thumbs up.