Thursday, June 22, 2006

Gutbucket - Sludge Test

Sludge Test (Cantaloupe)

While the rest of the word contemplates whether Gutbucket is a punk rock band that plays jazz or a jazz band that plays punk rock, it’s more important to consider that the band straddles both genres on Sludge Test without making the end result sound like a novelty. Sure, Naked City set that musical ball rolling in the late ‘80s, but all those 20-second blasts of composed noise sounded the same after awhile. (And you’d think John Zorn would’ve gotten tired of resorting to that same shrill, above-the-normal-register squeal.)

Gutbucket — who, like the Zorn-led aggregation, also hails from New York — can blast a listener across the room with the progressive thrash of the album opener “Money Management For a Better Life,” but they’re equally as interested in more complex piece that takes a while to unfold. The best of the latter comes with “Throsp%,” a six-minute tone poem that starts with surf guitar and a slow two-chord groove and builds up through layers of melodies into a climax wherein Ken Thomson’s alto sax starts to boil. And the whole thing, which the band compares to Godspeed You! Black Emperor, still manages to sound pretty amidst the frenzy.

In between, the group combines heavy rock with quarter-tone sax melodies (the title track); a nasty array of bass guitar scrapes leads to a heavy riff that could have been lifted from Blacks Sabbath or Flag (“Underbidder”). The album ends with “Danse de la fureur, pour les sept trompettes,” a movement from a larger piece written by French composer Olivier Messiaen while imprisoned in a Nazi camp in 1941. An impressive undertaking — drummer Paul Chuffo wrote his own part while his bandmates transcribed their parts — it sounds a little too math rock-y and gets a little rigid when all four instruments move in parallel motion. It lacks the loose, swinging quality of their originals.

Throughout Sludge Test, the group isn’t afraid to utilize overdubs to widen the sound, which finds Ty Citerman creating several voices of guitar parts. Chuffo gets in on the act, adding a whole other kit to “Punkass Rumbledink” and giving it extra kick. Thomson’s gives his horn a brawny tone that carries a density equal to his bandmates. Bassist Eric Rockwin, who wrote half the album, often holds down the bottom end and adds melodic color the music simultaneously.

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