Black Host: Life in the Sugar Candle Mines (Northern Spy) / by A. Drouot

19 Jul


Now 50, Gerald Cleaver’s career has really taken off in the past ten years or so. His fourth album as a leader comes out under the moniker Black Host and features a new project that blends the adventurousness of free jazz with the energy of rock. The group consists of up-and-coming musicians, alto sax Darius Jones, guitarist Brandon Seabrook, and bass player Pascal Niggenkemper, with the notable addition of veteran pianist Cooper-Moore who doubles on synthesizers for the occasion.

The epic opener serves as a perfect introduction to Black Host’s world, a world where chaotic mayhem, hard driving ostinatos, blissful melodies, and unfettered improvisation come in succession. That being said, each piece has a distinct construction or form. For instance, “Gromek” moves along an industricla or machinery-like hum with Jones and Seabrook aiming at stratospheric targets. And “Wrestling,” a nod to Bartok, is based on the Hungarian composer’s “Mikrokosmos no. 108.”

Despite the various approaches and strategies adopted, the compositions share a common vibe and are shrouded in a post-industrial veil. A close-to-the-bone rawness and urgency also prevails. In fact, Cleaver is credited for “sound and design.” This is neither a sign or self-indulgence nor a gimmick, but rather the recognition that the drummer has indeed put much work in defining a unique sound, a rare feat that might place this recording in a category alongside Eric Dolphy’s emblematic Out to Lunch.

Finally, Life in The Sugar Candle Mines would not be that successful it it were not for the top-drawer musicianship that never relies on the same bag of tricks. Pascal Niggenkemper’s tachycardia-like pulse, the osmosis between Jones and Seabrook (hopefully, those two musicians will get to work more together), Cooper-Moore’s turbulent commentaries, not to mention Cleaver’s explosive drive, contribute to create the many arresting moments that stud this album.

– Alain Drouot


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