This one sided LP documents the first collaboration between Melbourne psych rock thugs Exhaustion and the Dutch-born tenor saxophonist Kris Wanders, a veteran of the early days of European free improvisation who performed widely with legendary figures like Peter Brötzmann, Peter Kowald, and Han Bennink and recorded some classic sides with Alexander von Schlippenbach, Fred van Hove and the obscure Dutch pianist/clarinetist Kees Hazevoet before moving to Australia in the late 1970s, where he has continued to perfect his brand of raw, soulful free jazz.
Considering the roof-raising intensity usually achieved by both Exhaustion and Wanders’s regular Unit, it might be surprising for some that this recording is less of a post-Last Exit blowout than a spacious exploration of group dynamics. But this is certainly no casual jam session: Wanders and Exhaustion manage to imbue both peaks of manic ferocity and descents into near silence with the same feeling of concentration and intensity.
Wanders often grounds his playing here in mournful blues phrasing recalling both Brötzmann and Frank Wright, releasing slow arcs of notes that build into guttural cries and rapid-fire fragments of post-Coltrane scalar exploration. Duncan Blachford’s FX-saturated guitar playing moves between shimmering feedback and explosive reverb-tank interruptions, and the way his lingering pause over each note, allowing it ring out into feedback, combines with the cymbal-heavy pointillism of Per Byström’s drumming is reminiscent of the atmosphere of suppressed violence in Masayuki Takayanagi’s classic mid-70’s New Direction Unit recordings. At other moments Byström builds up thudding, irregular pulses that, accompanied by Ian Wadley’s wandering bass lines, bring the quartet into classic free jazz territory.
Blachford’s vocal interjection, ranging from ghostly humming to rowdy grunts, push the group into a truly unhinged meeting point of intuitive psych-rock excesses and speed-of-thought free improv interplay. The group sound, rather than the contribution of any individual player, is the focus here: even Wanders, whose enormous tone and constant invention can’t help but occupy the listener’s attention, often recedes back into the group’s primordial soup, building up delicate and sometimes piercing microtonal harmonies with Blachford’s feedback tones.
Captured in fittingly raw room fidelity, this is the first document of a powerful new group, and a perfect contemporary companion to the recently unearthed Brötzmann/Fushitsusha recordings. – Francis Plagne