John Butcher, Miya Masaoka, and Gino Robair’s new release, Guerilla Mosaics claims itself, self-evidently, as a free-jazz album. I have had the opportunity to listen to the best of the best in this genre - from Ornette Coleman and Mal Waldron to Steve Lacy and Joe Maneri. I have learned not only to appreciate, but also to enjoy this music. There is nothing like free jazz being played by the Masters.
This CD is nothing like free jazz being played by the masters.
I suppose the title is apt. "Guerrilla Mosaics" emits an air of disorganization. Paintings without colors, perhaps. Songs without words. Music without musicality. The trio presents here all of the above.
From the beginning, the instrumentation arouses suspicion. We have John Butcher on tenor or
soprano saxophone. Next is Miya Masaoka playing 21-string koto and laser koto. So far this would make for interesting, if not excitingly fascinating music. But the percussionist is the culprit. Gino Robair plays percussion, faux dax
(?), bowed metal, and motors. To further arouse suspicion, there were no liner notes, and no press release.
The music itself is truly awful. Soundscapes of noise. A koto here, a motor there, a squealing saxophone someplace else. No rhythms, no melodies, no harmonies. Few dynamics or texture changes. No timbre changes. Completely void of artistic expression.
Perhaps the secret that this group is not aware of is that there is a vocabulary to free jazz just as there is to swing, bop, post-bop, or contemporary jazz, and even classical music. There are techniques, devices, sounds that the accustomed free jazz listener will recognize. Also, in order to say something is free, a baseline has to be presented of what is not free. A drum kick here, a bass line there, a blues riff somewhere else. Every once in awhile, the palate must be cleansed. This added to a few dynamics (for instance, the speed of the motor increasing, instead of just revving at a constant rpm), can make for good music.
The only bright spot on this CD is the fifth track, "Glyph". Here, they do present a funky bass line to give us a foundation for the rest of the more adventurous playing. Also, the guitar provides a little rhythmic accompaniment as contrast. The track is greatly improved by employing these methods.
Guerilla Mosaics is thoroughly disappointing as a jazz album. There is little to no worth in the music presented here. Perhaps the instruments would be better put to use in the hands of these musicians pounding in nails or in a car engine (although they’d probably record that, too).