The Spanish Donkey -Xyx (Northern Spy, 2011) ****


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By Paul Acquaro

You could try approaching XYX actively listening to every nuance and rhythmic shift, analyzing and digesting every note. Or, you could let it wash over you, letting its sonic sandpaper exfoliate your mind. Either way, you will not be able to escape the tingling rawness it inflicts.

I've tried both approaches, during the same listening session. The tracks “Mid-Evil" and “XYX," coming in at 38 and 22 minutes respectively, give ample time to tune in and out, as they evolve. Joe Morris' clean punctuating electric guitar, Jamie Saft's dark shifting array of keyboards and electronics (and occasional electric bass) and Mike Pride's tough and precise drumming lay down a sonic wash that nary lets up in intensity and constantly shifts in shades and tone. The group pushes and pulls time and texture to create a fantastic world of aggressively ambient sound and music.

At times, the electronics and percussion burble darkly laying a foundation for Morris's percolating melody lines. Pride's percussion adds flare to the ferociousness and helps propel the furious improvisations. Employing rhythm and sound over distinct melody, Saft amps up the intensity, and all three musicians are of equal importance in the mix. Midway into 'Mid-Evil,' Saft's electronic tones, uncompromising sine waves and atonal shearings build into a gut wrenching climax that is just not to be missed.

While you may wonder what comfort you may find under this blanket of barbed wire (though it's certainly is more comfortable than the device gracing the album's cover), you may be surprised. This collection is an impressive display of texture, tone and dynamics and is a good, challenging listen. Go in, be prepared, be ready, it's a little mean and rough but quite exhilarating.

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This story appears courtesy of Free Jazz by Stef Gijssels.
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