Friday, October 21, 2011

CD Review: The Spanish Donkey - XYX

The Spanish Donkey

Let Joe Morris go a few weeks without a shave, put him together with two rough looking bearded dudes, and - wham - he can pass for a metal dude.

Actually, that's not really true, nor fair. But seeing the liner photo where Morris is flanked by Mike Pride (drums) and Jamie Saft (keyboards, bass), the trio known here as the Spanish Donkey looks like it could be the latest entry in progressive death metal. As it turns out, the legend on the back cover ("File under: avant-metal jazz") is pretty much on the money.

Morris is no stranger to free improvisation or any kind of adventurous jazz, but his own releases have never gone this far in terms of heaviness. Saft has played keyboards with John Zorn (who's never been afraid to mix metal or any kind of noise like that with a jazz sense) and he also plays in a duo with drummer Bobby Previte. It's clear that Saft has a deadly combination: a desire to create heavy, ugly music and utilize some serious chops to pull it off. With Pride along to help shape some contours of the music, things fall into place.

XYX consists of two tracks, one 37 minutes long, the other 23 minutes. Make no mistake, this is brutal, heavy and ugly, but in the best way possible. And these guys play with their ears turned to their bandmates, to ensure that it doesn't sound like an endless wall of noise or noodling. Pride plays a key role in "Mid-Evil" for when he pulls back off the trap kit, it gives the music a chance to take on a different shape. The first five minutes create a ruckus of Morris's guitar and Saft's low-end keyboards dancing around over Pride's free clatter. When he stops, the guitar lapses into would might be a metal spaghetti western theme. One quality that also makes this session more compelling is Morris' clean tone. Where some old might be tempted to play through a bank of pedals, Morris plays absolutely clean, putting all of his melodic and technical skills to work.

Around the 13 minute mark, a change comes as Saft holds down some bass synthesizer notes that lead to some percussive, high notes that howl over Morris's skronk. Later on, some actual chords emanate from one of Saft's battery of keys, sounding for a moment like Rick Wright's performance on Pink Floyd's "A Saucerful of Secrets."

Although there's a clear break between "Mid-Evil" and "XYX," it could easily be one that was inserted in post-production so the listener would have a breather. The second track continues in the same spirit as the first, although the second half of it does actual become more of a long wave of sound that doesn't offer any dynamic shifts and just pummels away. But if you've made it that far into the set, you clearly have the stamina for such a mind numbing sound.

If you're still left wanting more after an hour of this stuff, the CD contains download code for a bonus track that can be found on the Northern Spy website.

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