Four tenor saxes! Four! That's how Battle Trance get things going. In 2014 they did Palace of Wind and with very visceral malice knocked us all off of our seats, and Blade of Love, with its breathing and squeezing and often actual playing, continues to show how this quartet have developed their very physical relationship with their instruments. They often eschew the traditional ways of playing in favour of making sounds that relate to the real world -- those that can rarely be heard in standard musical idioms.
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- Blade of Love by Battle Trance
Battle Trance are a tenor sax clone quartet: that’s four, tenor, saxes, everybody, and I think that just about qualifies as a racket. Creating monolithic blusters of sound, their music often sounds like a whirring portal you could step into and come out the other side of: such is its mix of fixed drone stalemate and ever-changing texture. You might think four dudes improvising tenor together would be a little too cerebral, and perhaps a touch inaccessible, but ‘Blade of Love’ feels strikingly emotive, using its communal free jazz as a way of confessing emotions of sorrow at their most dramatic -- at the extremes of pitch.
The first track on “Blade of Love” shows how these dudes really do seem to just consider their saxophones another limb on their body, with vocal cries weaving in and out of long sustained notes and hurried, breath-like melodies that sound like hyperventilation given melody. It’s a phenomenal achievement, to make this instrument sound both primitively physical and conversational as well -- it happens again on the second track, with whistles imitating the wind before the tenors mix wispy, reed-smacked mouth sounds with proper playing. It sounds like four people huffing and puffing in relay.
What’s amazing is that the experimentation on this record is folded into some of the most beautiful music you’ll hear this year: the opening the track eventually evolves into an almost cinematic climax, before eventually climbing down and up the spectrum of free jazz malady, while the second track has some properly romantic scale improvisations, held in place by implications of chords, before the whole scene is torn apart by squeaks and sparks. If you’re shy of full on free improvisation and need something a little more cohesive, a little prettier, this might be for you: with its distraught vocal harmonies and sombre motifs, the third track even suggests its first. In spite of its brilliant intensity, it’s likely you won’t hear much more beautiful than this in 2016.
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