Review: Chad M. Clark – Vast Mass (Distant Taxa, Feb 3)

Vast Mass, perhaps even more so than its equally catchily named and colorfully covered predecessor Cashmere Spheres, is consistent with a wider trend in post-Bailey “total guitar” improvisation of engaging not only with the full extent of the instrument’s physical soundmaking potential, but also with external sounds and textures that align with the central action—Ash Cooke/Chow Mwng dubbed his own particular approach “Gwrth-gitâr,” drawing in chunks of inspiration and serendipity from outdoor environments and nonmusical objects. Chicago’s Chad M. Clark shapes even more complexity through the use of multitracking, overlaying, and collaging, stuffing each track full of countless layers that nonetheless seem to have sprung from the same place. Even when brief flurries of sax skronk or frantic arco surface in the stew, even when the spiderleg bridge taps and rattling plectrum scrapes feel so alien they couldn’t possibly have been produced with a guitar, every audible sound embodies and emphasizes the central, irresistible tension that keeps ear after ear returning to records like Aida more than forty years later (and who knows, probably this one forty years on): the strain and wrack of strings stretched taut, the aching gasp of a half-formed harmonic, the creaking breath of the wood itself.