Improvising trio Bowlcut shares its interactive acumen on its promising new album, Semaphore | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Improvising trio Bowlcut shares its interactive acumen on its promising new album, Semaphore 

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Bowlcut

Matt Piet

On Bowlcut’s sizzling new album, Semaphore (Amalgam), it’s easy to hear the bond that saxophonist Jake Wark, guitarist Matt Murphy, and drummer Bill Harris have formed performing together over the last few years. The group cleaves to improvisation, allowing its deeply interactive attack to direct its proceedings even when employing loose structural devices, moving easily between raucous, abrasive free jazz and cool, harnessed sound sculpture. On “All Toes, Part 1” Harris generates a synthetic low-end vibrato that conjures the sound of a distant helicopter as Murphy spreads out a blanket of long tones embroidered by cool arpeggios and Wark unleashes a precarious balladic improvisation with a striated tone that hovers ominously on the brink of chaos—but the track effectively concludes before they surrender control. They relinquish that sense of measure on other pieces, including the lengthy “Catadramous,” which winds though nearly ten minutes of ebb and flow. As noisy, explosive blowing recedes into hushed friction, Harris skitters across his kit, Wark unfurls astringent yet gently articulated curlicues, and Murphy complements quiet tangles of flickering string scratching with elusive electronic abstractions—only to morph into explicit melody that embraces jazz orthodoxy in its harmonic interplay and shreds it to pieces in rhythmic mayhem. I admire that Bowlcut sometimes adds novel elements such as tapes, electronics, and synthesizer into its mix; the found audio on “Stereo Detective” is distracting, but that’s a minor miscue on an album rich with promise.   v


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