Photo: Peter Gannushkin
Guitarist Brandon Seabrook is always a thrill to hear. His jangling, jagged lines and sudden eruptions keep the listener on their toes, without ever being noisy for its own sake; he’s after beauty, but it’s beauty of a particular sort. Back in 2013, he was part of a quintet called Black Host, led by drummer Gerald Cleaver and also featuring Darius Jones on alto sax, Cooper-Moore on keyboards, and Pascal Niggenkemper on bass. Their album Life in the Sugar Candle Mines was a challenging listen at first, but once I put it aside and came back to it a few weeks later, it got its hooks in me; I ended up loving it.
Seabrook’s got a new trio album, Exultations, out under his own name, with Cooper-Moore on diddley-bow — a droning one-string bass-like instrument, typically home-built — and Cleaver behind the kit. It’s powerful stuff, coming straight out of the gate on opening track “Flexing Fetid and Fecund” (some of these pieces have titles that could easily belong to death metal songs) with a churning, almost Ronald Shannon Jackson-esque militaristic boogie as Cooper-Moore gets an incredible amount of mileage out of his one-stringed instrument, bouncing and scraping it percussively to the point that he sounds like two or more people at once. Seabrook’s guitar scrapes and clangs, shimmers and wavers like a cross between Sonny Sharrock circa Monkey-Pockie-Boo and Sonic Youth at their dreamiest, bouncing from one side of the stereo field to the other as it goes.
“Behavioral Tub” is absolutely concussive on headphones; it begins with Cooper-Moore creating a massive rumble on the diddley-bow as Cleaver dances across his cymbals, and when Seabrook comes in, first making a No Wave/free jazz noise and later becoming almost harmolodic, emitting dense bursts of high-pitched pinging notes before breaking out abstract jazz chords, the whole thing starts to sound shockingly reminiscent of Last Exit, minus the roaring saxophone. It bleeds directly into the next track, “Essential Exultations,” which is much more beautiful, a shimmering landscape of overtones and gentle washes of percussion.
As the album cruises toward its conclusion, “Along Comes Diddley” appears like a postpunk explosion, Cleaver jackhammering his kit with martial barrages as Seabrook scrapes at the strings like he’s trying to work his stuck fingers loose from between them, and Cooper-Moore booms like a one-man earthquake. On the final track, he manages to create a walking bass line on the diddley-bow, as Seabrook’s guitar rises up like a tidal wave, then dissipates like a cloud of vapor an instant later.
Although the music is largely improvised, Exultations is no mere documentary production. It was recorded, mixed and mastered by Colin Marston (Krallice, Behold the Arctopus), and it sounds phenomenal; it’s heavy as hell without ever sliding into clichés endemic to metal or to free improv, and it’s thoroughly immersive for its entire 39-minute running time. Consider it a must-hear.