Male's Radiant Ambient Improvisation | Bleader

Male's Radiant Ambient Improvisation

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Male (Jonathan Krohn and Benjamin Mjolsness)
  • Male (Jonathan Krohn and Benjamin Mjolsness)
The local instrumental duo of guitarist Benjamin Mjolsness (formerly of Mass Shivers) and keyboardist/electronics guy Jonathan Krohn, aka Male, rarely perform or record without a complement of players from the local jazz and improv scene—it looks like what they do is come up with ideas and then enlist some great musicians to help realize them. Male's modus operandi is to record amorphous, drifting tracks as a duo, then bring in folks like vibist Jason Adasiewicz, cornetist Josh Berman, and guitarist Todd Mattei to improvise over them in real time, with no subsequent edits. On the group's 2008 debut, All Are Welcome (Other-Electricities), the result is a radiant set of ambient soundscapes embroidered with gestural detail and enriched with textural variety, though they tend toward the noisy rather than the placid.

But in the making of the duo's new album, German for Shark, due for vinyl release July 6 by the same label, the guest musicians played a more active role, participating in the creation of improvised pieces that were later enhanced by overdubs from smaller groups. Despite this shift the new record actually sounds more stripped down, but there's also a much greater dynamic range and wider assortment of approaches. The opening track, "M. Wilson, American," which you can hear at the bottom of this post, rumbles and howls one moment with Mike Reed's surging and ebbing free-jazz drumming and the lashing of Dave Rempis's searing alto-sax lines, then recedes into a rumbling drone speckled by faint glimmers of Berman's cornet and Adasiewicz's spiky vibraphone; at one point it hits a quasi-tribal vibe, and at another it embraces an orchestral density full of heavy guitar resonance.

Most of the music on All Are Welcome settles on a particular idea and rides it out for ten minutes, but here the pieces are usually very short (between two and four minutes) and the longer ones never sit in one place. Other guests on the record include Nick Butcher (tapes) and Steve Hess (drums), but you're likely to be disappointed if you go in listening for star turns; it's all about ensemble sound, not individual contributions. I like the fact that the album includes two versions of "The Tase," a short studio take and a longer live one, because this proves to some degree that Male are deliberate in their work—there are obvious sonic and compositional threads in both versions, like the shimmery, stuttery guitar line, that make plain the song's not just a free-for-all.

Male celebrates the release of the new record with a concert tonight at the Hideout. Helping out are Mattei, Adasiewicz, Berman, Hess, Rempis, and drummer Frank Rosaly. The opening set is a rare performance by the Friction Brothers, the trio of cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, percussionist Michael Zerang, and dry ice maestro Michael Colligan, one of my picks for the Reader's recent Best of Chicago issue.

"M. Wilson, American":

Today's playlist:

Stian Around a Hill Quartet, Lille Stille (AIM Sound City)
Beach House, Teen Dream (Sub Pop)
Ñico Saquito y Sus Guaracheros de Oriente, Alborada (Tumbao)
Guano Padano, Guano Padano (Important)
Lucio Capece & Mika Vainio, Trahnie (Editions Mego)

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