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Lean Left – Live at Café Oto


The Ex has been around on the edge of Dutch punk and improv since 1979, veterans in the explorations of sounds and music on the wide outer side of mainstream. So when the modern energetic avant-jazz-improv duo of the US saxplayer Ken Vandermark and Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, who has been performing together since the year 2000, meets up with The Ex guitars of Andy Moor and Terrie Ex, expectations of sonic fun rises above most gigs, at both separate punk or jazz venues can present to their audience. Café Oto being one of the busiest improv or avant-garde spots in London (and a friendly place it is!), makes for bands wanting to record their performances there. Lean Left did not come as a one-off project, having released brilliant recordings on Smalltown Superjazz from a gig in 2008 as well. This recording is from a night in 2011, and my guess is that the audience who attended this left the gig with heads and ears turned both left and right.

Guitars are flying, as are the drums, moving in between each other, from rock ’n’ roll or upbeat, to frantically complex jazz rhythms, with a saxophone hovering over the sound-image, pushing out melodies or loops. The interactions hanging on a string somewhere, well-played togetherness, changing the tempo seamlessly and steplessly all together as a unity, but still preforming as individuals. Melodies appear, on and off, turning into loops, or sometimes beats, on and off, all perfectly in sync. Guitars or saxophone drift off or even rush into sound exploration without anyone losing focus. Suddenly I find myself hearing elements from some of John Coltrane‘s latest recordings, but with left and right guitars instead of reeds left and right, or Jimi Hendrix fiddling with his guitar, but with jazz beats.

But more important is the overall impression. The cacophonic music is well spiced with elements from punk or punk/ hardr ock as well as 70s jazz-rock fusion, all swinging from the noisier chaotic to the mellow strangeness. The noise-like parts of this recording are well mixed, and it is easy to hear all performers and their instruments, which is well stripped down, no massive use of distortion by the guitars, or anyone hidden by walls of sound. They just push the instruments to the limits of what is possible, not caring about conventions or whatever rules some musicians strive to live by. This performance is all about creating good stuff, no matter what it takes, and no matter that the band is not getting any rest, having to listen carefully to whatever any other is doing, following the music every twist and turn it takes. And speaking of which, any turn the music takes makes complete sense when it does, as if it was pre-decided, because some genius composer worked hard to create the passages that should fit together well. But it isn’t. All played by ear and instinct and experience.


-Ronny Wærnes-

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