PGA - Corrections [Va Fongool - 2012]PGA's "Corrections" is the sort of album most any listener would be unsure of what to make of. It is a recording which enthusiastically rejects all forms of known musical organization, and indeed embraces many of the sounds musicians tend to painstakingly iron out of their performances with years of practice, as evidenced by song titles like "Out of Tune" in association the blatant cacophany found within.
I would refer to these sounds as simply avant garde rather than free jazz, as there is no trace of the musical form 'jazz' in these improvisations other than the instrumentation used to produce them (drums, acoustic bass, trombone, trumpet). These instruments are rendered nearly unrecognizable through a plethora of strange playing techniques, sounding at times electronic or mechanical, and at times digital. I can't help but think there was some kind of field recording involved or found object involved at times.
The group's sound is a grossly atonal groan, wavering this way and that in quasi-colorful nauseous refractions. If one can past the basic dissonant ugliness of the constrasting pitches struck by the players, there is some kind of fascinating interplay at work, a rhythm certainly beholden to no grid, more like a whimsically shifting reflection of light, or any other natural process which holds a certain pattern or internal logic without exactly repeating itself.
PGA are not nearly as opposed to sonic pleasure as they are to melodicism, and the light drag of various implements across the resonance of the snaredrum head which lasts the first few minutes of "Pretty Good Alternative" had me mesmerized. But of course at this moment, another uneasy chord seems to rise beneath it. It is largely a tense record, but not one with much real sonic density or aggression. It is not a cathartic experience; it is much like being uncomfortable in one's chair. If this is the feeling they intended to express, and it may very well be, then they have succeeded.
There are some strong ritual ambient elements to this album, namely the track "Suggestion", in which the periodic thud of a deep drum sets the stage for a number of slowly bowed strings and metallic sounds that could be sheet metal or chains. In this instance the group has tempered the dissonance and tension with the introduction of space and a slow rhythmic pulsation, and powerful psychic intent is clear. It's one of the tracks on the album I honestly enjoy.
"Interference" is a collection of uneven twanging volleys from the acoutic bass, speeding up and slowing down as if careening off balance. Like many of the tracks on the album, the rapid and seasick rhythmic shifts leave me unsure as to the intent. Free improvisation of this kind could be said to be an even more subjective experience than other music. This sonic pattern is not unpleasant, but it changes in few meaningful ways in its 4 minutes, I am unsure of its emotional content, and if anything, and I feel I might gain as much or more by simply picking up an instrument and improvising something myself.
"Catalogue" seems again to venture into the murky waters of dark ambient music, with eerie feedback tones and returning swells of bassy distortion. This piece, like most of the album, feels detached, utterly cold and devoid of sentiment. An electric hum resonates at the fore for the second half of the track, and an interesting percussive elements joins with a peculiarly buoyant, resonant timbre that could be created by hollow plastic tubes. An abrasive, saw-like sound is vaguely audible in the background. I find myself enjoying this recording more when it favors textural and drone elements in this way, but still have a hard time hearing the emotion and intent of the people behind it.
"Suggestion II", a brief 2 minutes, is the most curious assortment of sounds yet, and we couldn't be further from the basic timbres of the quartet. Shrill scrapes and cricket chirping produce a vague, trebley ambient, and accompany airy, tongued articulations from the saxophonist, who blows air through his instrument without enough force to produce a note.
"Ending?" continues the awkwardness with a light rhythmic metallic tapping, like the sound of droplets hitting a surface, and an almost dolphin-like phrasing of squeaks from the sax player, doing its best to keep perfectly aligned with the metallic tap's volume contour. My ears have become tuned to the sound of this group by this point in the record, and I actually feel like each track on the album takes a refreshingly new approach, despite the ubiquitous dissonance and abrasive, bleating timbres.
In fitting with the sort of contradiction insisted upon by PGA, "Ending?" is not the ending, and the final two tracks are both called "Poor Guy, Alone". In the first, we finally have a consistent pulse, kept by a ringing metallic percussion instrument that could be of gamelan origin. The second is equally sparse and simplistic, this time honing on a deep, rattling bowed double bass note, the same sort of sound commonly employed by groups like Arktau Eos. It begins to vibrate fiercely and increase to unnatural volume, sounding almost like the motor of a lawn mower. It's a very intentional and ritual feeling album ending.
In summary, this is a very challenging piece of music, even for those used to enjoying purely textural sounds and free improvisation. This group goes out of their way to avoid consonant chords or tonalities, and seems to mask the intent and emotion behind their work. However, the sheer richness and diversity of coldly mutated instrumental timbres achieved here is undeniable, and at times they find a comfortable entrancing slowness. "Corrections" will tune your ears to a world of possibilities never expected from ordinary jazz quartet instrumentation. Recommended for adventurous listeners of free jazz, avant garde and deep listening, and fans of experimental players like Mats Gustafsson.Josh Landry