Disaster Amnesiac continues the late 2010 trend in improvised music listening with this meaty 2 disc set by this NYC amalgamation of stone cold masters.
This all-live document of a set at Tonic in 2004 blasts off with the quickness, and rarely lets up. The players quickly delve into their respective bags of improvisational tricks, the sum total being a forest of blurping, bleeping, clicking, and ratcheting sounds. There have been improv sets that seem all the more boring for their insistence on "energy" and "fire", but the players that make up White Out for the Senso set manage to avoid those kinds of dynamics, instead achieving an intensely focused, yet highly energized interaction. There is never the sense players simply blowing for the sake of blowing. This is not to say that White Out doesn't lack energy. That's not the case at all. The sound just has, for the most part, a sense of restraint as the players reveal new sounds and motifs into the overall piece.
Drummer Tom Surgal is particularly impressive, utilizing rolling phrases to move the music. One wonders if he ever studied with Roger Blank, a mid-period NYC Free Jazz player profiled in Val Wilmer's classic study As Serious As Your Life. The question is asked due to Surgal's predominant use of mallets, an approach that Blank touted heavily is Wilmer's book. In a recent New Yorker podcast Blake Eskin, trying to describe Keith Moon's approach, opined "why not just be doing rolls the whole time?". This is essentially Surgal's style on Senso, and the use of mallets to effect these rolls gives his kit a melodic, rounded sound. It gives focus and drive to the scraping and feedback sounds emanating from Liz Culbertson and Jim O'Rourke's synths and Thurston Moore's guitar.
After repeated listening, it's clear that engineer Kari Erickson deserves as much credit for the ease of listening as the players. The audio is stunning; each instrument is clearly captured, with none of the "in the red" qualities that often add to the hyperbolic macho of many improv settings.
The combination of spatial awareness, dynamic focus, and imagination in playing and presentation make Senso an entertaining document of what was surely a solid show by a great band.