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Olson/Case/Hardiman, "March of the Mutilated (Vol. 1)"

cover imageSpurred on by an open Facebook post during one of John Olson’s (Wolf Eyes) visits to Upstate New York, this album features him with two local luminaries, Eric Hardiman (Rambutan, Century Plants) and Jeff Case (Burnt Hills) in a purely improvised setting. These three lengthy performances are surprisingly restrained, with Olson exclusively on reeds and wind instruments, Case on drums and Hardiman on saxophone and synths. I am guessing the result is an excellent example of psycho jazz (still not knowing exactly what that means as a genre), though it is surprisingly more conventional than I had expected.

Tape Drift

The first session is essentially straight up free jazz for the bulk of its duration.Olson takes the lead, sharing a notable amount of space with Case’s understated drumming behind.The freeform structure is apparent, but the playing is restrained; far less chaotic than I would expect from the crew.Later on the playing is underscored with some almost vibraphone type sounds, and the piece does not drifts into aggressive territory.The trio gets a bit wild near the end though, with the reeds getting a bit more intense and some harsher electronics coming forth.

For the second piece, Olson and Hardiman lock horns with each other as Case keeps the beat behind them.It is comparatively harder and a bit more chaotic, with the two taking turns retreating and then bursting out in a complex duet. The higher and low register difference in tone between the two complements each other very well, keeping for a dynamic sound as the percussion soldiers on.Here the overall sound shifts from a more peaceful chill out space, building to heavier bursts and rapid fire freakouts, all concluding in an excellent and appropriately boisterous crescendo.

The lengthy concluding performance (about as long as the two that preceded it combined) ties the album together extremely well.With the greater amount of time the improvisation between the three becomes more dynamic, deliberately building and collapsing as time goes on.The rhythms stay subtle as Hardiman introduces a bit more in the way of electronics.That, plus a tasteful amount of processing (specifically in the form of echo and reverb) push the performance into a very different, almost fusion jazz space (although a fusion of very different genres than usual).The performance has a brilliant transition from almost new age ambience into harsher, more aggressive territory before concluding on more of a synth drone note.

For what is essentially just a three person jam session in a basement, the sum total of the performances on March of the Mutilated Vol. 1 comes across as so much more.Shifting sounds and moods abound, but most importantly it never becomes overly directionless or self-indulgent.Sure, the performances get a bit noodly at times, but in a way that makes sense, and works.It may be a bit lighter than what I have come to expect from Olson, but the presence of Hardiman and Case make it a compelling jaunt from start to finish.