Here’s a video for “Test-Sunday,” by the new jazz group Black Host, directed by Mario Tahi Lathan:

Black Host is a quintet featuring alto saxophonist Darius Jones, guitarist Brandon Seabrook, keyboardist Cooper-Moore, bassist Pascal Niggenkemper, and drummer/bandleader Gerald Cleaver. Their debut album, Life in the Sugar Candle Mines, is out now on Northern Spy; it’s a tough record, challenging the listener from the moment it launches with its longest track, the 16-minute “Hover.” That piece lives up to its name early on, as Cleaver, Niggenkemper and Cooper-Moore set up a hypnotic-unto-maddening groove while Seabrook and Jones keen atop it all in a way that feels both more produced than most jazz albums (Cleaver is also credited with sound design) and somewhere in the neighborhood of what the saxophonist does in one of his other groups, the awesomely boundary-disrespecting Little Women. Toward its midpoint, it seems like it might become more conventionally “jazzy,” as Cooper-Moore takes a solo that sounds like an attempt to play Bach with mallets, but sonic disruptions reminiscent of industrial noise-rock sting the ear and you soon realize these guys aren’t going to stop messing with your preconceptions.

Life in… doesn’t get any less challenging as it goes along. The second piece, “Ayler Children,” sounds exactly nothing like Albert Ayler, and is mostly a showcase for Seabrook’s searing guitar. But on the very next track, “Citizen Rose,” he’s all gentle and reverb-swathed, sounding like Bill Frisell backing Chris Isaak as Cleaver gently admonishes the cymbals. And “Gromek” is just insane, featuring science fiction synths and bass throb unlike almost anything you’ve ever seen filed under “jazz.” This is an album that approaches music in the purest possible way—as what it is, organized sound. The first time I heard it, I didn’t like it. I ignored it for a few weeks, came back, and now I think it might be one of the best albums of 2013. It’s certainly one of the most consistently surprising, without ever being dickish about that, or turning it into the whole point. Black Host aren’t about upending preconceptions as a raison d’être; they simply refuse to acknowledge preconceptions at all, which is a much more mentally healthy and creatively fertile approach.

Phil Freeman

Lathan has also directed a second clip for Black Host, for “Hover”:

Buy Life in the Sugar Candle Mines from Amazon

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