In a post-Cage-ian world where there are no wrong notes – in fact, no notes at all, just silence and the absence of silence – the enigmatic Merzbow is a Magellan of sound, fearlessly traveling uncharted waters on each new project he undertakes (he has made over 350 recordings since 1979). Born on December 19, 1956 in Tokyo, he was originally attracted to rock guitarists like Jimi Hendrix, Lou Reed and Robert Fripp, and later was influenced by free jazz icons Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor and Frank Wright as well as electronic music pioneers like Karlheinz Stockhauser and Iannis Xenakis. “Then I found the forum for mixing these influences into pure electronic noise,” he said in a 1999 interview with EsoTerra Magazine: The Journal of Extreme Culture. “I was trying to create an extreme form of music.”
Merzbow has found true kindred spirits in Pandi, who has collaborated with him since 2009, and Gustafsson, a stalwart on the Scandanavian free jazz scene. Pandi’s explosive drumming has propelled such other experimental bands as Venetian Snares, Blood of Heroes, Worm Skull, Zu and two other groups from the RareNoise roster – Obake (with bassist Massimo Pupillo, guitarist Eraldo Bernocchi and vocalist Lorenzo Fornasari) and Metallic Taste of Blood (featuring guitarist Eraldo Bernocchi, Porcupine Tree bassist Colin Edwin and keyboardist Jamie Saft). Gustafsson is a member of the Peter Brotzman Tentet, the Barry Guy New Orchestra and The Thing with drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten. He has also worked with many free jazz musicians including German drummer Paul Lovens, Dutch pianist Misha Mengelberg, Chicago-based saxophonist Ken Vandermark, New York-based trumpeter/saxophonist Joe McPhee, New York-based drummer Hamid Drake and the Italian experimental band Zu. He claims Little Richard, The Cramps and Emtombed as early inspirations in his musical development. “I started off playing electric piano in a local punk band in my home town Umeå when I was 13,” he says. “I was lucky to grow up in northern Sweden in a small university town that actually had a jazz club and a very active music scene. I heard Steve Lacy, Sonny Rollins, Derek Bailey and Per Henrik Wallin really early as my main jazz kicks. But as Evan Parker used to say, ‘My roots are in my record player.’
Together this hellacious triumverate has concocted a white-hot cauldron of oscillating distortions and feedback tape loops blended with blowtorch intensity sax playing and thrashing power drumming on Cuts. The five evocative titles (inspired by Swedish audio-visual artist Leif Elggren´s 2007 exhibit ”something like seeing in the dark”) convey the sense of maelstrom and mystery that permeate the live recording: “evil knives. lines” sounds like an end-of-days vortex sucking the cosmos away while “deep lines. cuts” could’ve served as the soundtrack to Ridley’s Scott’s recent dark sci-fi film, Prometheus. “the fear too. invisible” is a marriage of white noise and clanky metal percussion while the forboding “like razor blades in the dark” unleashes Gustafsson with some ferocious overblowing and squealing multiphonics on baritone sax against Pandi’s surging polyrhythmic pulse. The album’s intense closer, “like me. like you,” is a fitting manifesto for this renegade noise trio.
“This trio was initiated by Balazs,” says Gustafsson. “He and Masami have played some together before. I played together with Masami and Sonic Youth and also made various recordings with him and Jim O’Rourke in Japan. I had never played with Balazs before, so I was delighted to work with him on this project.” Gustafsson is quick to point out that that three free spirits forged an indelible chemistry on tour together and brought that vibe into Metropol Studio in Budapest to record the material for Cuts. “I have to say that this group really hit something amazing during the tour and in the studio, something that is not possible to analyze. It always remains a mystery to me how things will work, of course, but with Masami you KNOW it will freakin’ ROCK!”
For Pandi, who has toured three continents with Merzbow in three years, playing in the studio was a unique situation. “Me and Masami have never had the possibility to record in a studio environment, which definitely has a different kind of energy. It’s harder to play in a sterile, more controlled environment than playing live.”
Regarding Cuts, Pandi says, “People into jazz will call it a noise record, people into noise will call it a jazz record. Personally, I don’t know what to call it... rawpowerjazz?” Adds Gustafsson, “I never put label on anything I do. That is never good for the listener. Anyone makes up their own mind about music... and art... and life. So for me, it is just music that I played with my friends Masami and Balazs. It is what it is…it’s all a mystery.”
Mystery never sounded so extreme as it does on Cuts, the debut of this startling new power trio.
released February 7, 2013
1 Evil Knives. Lines. 17:55
2 Deep Lines. Cuts. 19:07
3 The Fear Too. Invisible. 7:35
4 Like Razor Blades In The Dark. 20:55
5 Like Me. Like You. 6:16