Weasel Walter/ Mary Halvorson/ Peter Evans
(Thirsty Ear) www.thirstyear.com
Talk about a meeting of the minds. Drummer Weasel Walter has riled up listeners by playing strong, wild jazz and abrasive metal, sometimes under the same band name. The best known of his units is likely the Flying Luttenbachers. Guitarist Mary Halvorson hasn't been playing as long as Walter but over the past eight or nine years she's developed a stellar reputation for the work of her trio and quintet, in addition to appearances with Anthony Braxton and other reputable collaborators. Peter Evans' trumpet plays a crucial role in the sound of Mostly Other People Do the Killing and he's on his way towards amassing a resume as long and as solid as his co-horts here.
Electric Fruit begins in a way that proves this music won't be a gentle ride or one that's lacking in forward movement. All of these pieces sound spontaneous, with only a few discernible melodies bubbling to the surface. Most of the time they throw ideas at each other that either embellished or stomped on. Evans begins "Mangosteen 3000 A.D." with some squeaks that might send you to the credits to double-check that no reeds were used on the album. Walter joins him with some percussive clatter and splats. Halvorson begins playing it clean and thoughtful, as if she'll play the straight member of the trio, in contrast to these two hams. Four minutes later though, she's kicked on the distortion and starts using the wobbly effect that's become her calling card. It might be a whammy bar, but the sound envelopes the whole guitar so clearly that it's more likely some sort of pedal that bends the pitches. The effect is similar to a wah-wah pedal in that it can make everything start to sound the same before long, and after her last album, it's started to come off like a parlor trick. But for some reason Electric Fruit helped it to start growing on me. Maybe context is everything.
Walter can be one of the most spastic drummers on the planet, and the 15-minute tour de force "Yantok Salak Kapok" includes a skittery drum solo that proves that point. As much as it seems like he enjoys being abrasive and unsettling (see various pieces of the Luttenbachers' catalog) these frenetic performances are more likely to inspire wails of approval. His technique and sense of how to respond to Evans and Halvorson show how open his ears are.
Evans seems to draw on the whole history of jazz trumpet, even if some chapters only last a few phrases. "The Pseudo Carp Walks Among Us" (yes, all five tracks have goofy titles, which says a lot about these three) begins with an unaccompanied solo that purees bebop and '60 freedom with rapid lines and half-valve bends. It doesn't last more than a minute but it gives a greater appreciation for Evans' depth. In "Yantok" he sticks in the mute for some mutant Miles lines that sound delightful amongst the percussion and guitar skronk.
To put it another way, Walter, Halvorson and Evans sound like they're having a blast, and the feeling should be contagious to anyone with open ears.