Review: Karen Willems & Jürgen Augusteyns – Rapper! (bwaa., Mar 5)

Rapper! is a guitar and drums album that captures the spirit of Bailey and Bennink’s legendary June 1972 live sessions, transposing its bashing brutality and unhinged, rabid fun to a new era. Accomplished Belgian improvisers Karen Willems (drums) and Jürgen Augusteyns (guitar) had never played together before recording the material that would become Rapper!, but their sonic rapport is of that sort that defies typical conceptions of seasoned interplay or mutual preoccupations, and instead is perhaps more comparable to the boundless, breathless adventures you had with that kid you met at the park when you were five and never saw again. It’s impossible not to listen to ecstatic nonsense-frescoes like the opening title track or amorphous jams a la “Trager, of neen, toch rapper!” without imagining Willems and Augusteyns face-to-face in a cramped studio, dripping with sweat and just screaming at each other as they mash and mutilate their instruments with unyielding force. Amidst the chaos there are moments of reticence and even tenderness, but they always retain some semblance of bizarreness; take “Altijd,” for example, in which a simple, incessant fingerpicked line is haunted by whips, rustles, and whispers from Willems at the music’s furthest edges. It’s bits like this that establish the presence of something beyond just the two talented musicians having fun. There’s a wordless connection, an understanding—a garishly colorful and misshapen one perhaps, but an understanding nonetheless.

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