Review: Whisker – Moon Mood (Husky Pants, Feb 23)

On Moon Mood, their first album as Whisker, Tiger Hatchery drummer Ben Billington and bassist Andrew Scott Young weave one of the more unusual—and enthralling—duo improvisations I’ve heard. Though Billington pounds the kit mercilessly in the aforementioned project, a trio with saxophonist Michael Forbes, here he embraces a much more subdued palette of abstract electronics. At first, the contrast between these burbling transmissions and Young’s dissonant but largely conventional playing is stark, almost off-putting even, but the pair’s particular style of musical conversation soon becomes not only palpable, but visceral. It’s a strange combination of edge-of-your-seat, suspenseful volatility and something much more languid; each musician has a wide range of intrusions at their disposal, from sparse to punishing, but the detailed noise they produce together is not an outward assault, nor even a muscular, indulgent chaos of Euro free jazz (I can’t help but think of Kowald when lost in Young’s throaty, expressive bowing)… they’re just jamming. Though that may sound reductive, it isn’t at all, because for me all the intrigue of Moon Mood is in the fluidity of exchange, wordless questions and proposals and answers and reactions. It’s well-recorded but you still feel like you’re in the room with them; at one point Billington rides on a low, buzzing throb that could very well be a vibrating cell phone, and it has the interesting effect of grounding one’s perspective to a space only hinted at, within which the instrumental gestures are even more astounding. Right now I’m particularly obsessed with a moment about four minutes into the second track, when the duo tries their hand(s) at a whimsical call-and-response, and their flurry of jutting tones and scant bow slices just absolutely nails it. Looking forward to more stuff from Whisker.

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