The first CD, »AlasNoAxis«, that was detox. Jim Black still had a whole load of ideas buzzing around in his head, wanting to get out, but up to now, in all the various groups that the percussionist had stamped with his rhythmic elasticity, there had never been a chance to realise them. Four years earlier, Black had founded his band »AlasNoAxis«. That is, he asked Chris Speed, the sax and clarinet player he had worked with in various projects and bands ever since they were both young guys in Seattle. Then he asked bass player Skúli Sverrisson, who like him had played In Speed’s band Yeah No and the joint project Pachora, as well as the Icelandic guitarist Hilmar Jensson, who also went a long way back with him. So a familiar environment, where anyone can take the lead role in a new project. What was new here was just the music, in which the band surveyed the broad territory it had covered in the course of its musical evolution.
With their menacing power chords, bleak noise-scapes and edgily structured grooves, with Speed’s mobile improvisation lines, Jensson’s sound experiments, Sverrisson’s insistent grooves and Jim Black’s energy, they spanned the arch from Seattle grunge rock to the down-town avantgarde improvisers in New York, which was now the centre of their lives.
»Habyor«, the new, third CD by Jim Black’s »AlasNoAxis« now marks a real change. It is dominated by the song format. Jim Black, now 36 years old, is sitting at home, surrounded by guitars; over and over, he picks one up, puts it down again, takes another, differently tuned, ponders, hums a melody line, and smiles contentedly. Jim Black as songwriter: it could have been something like that. Now he has composed a collection of songs, piece by piece, bit by bit, groove by groove, sound-block by sound-block, melody, harmony, rhythms, static rhythms and other things, all constantly evolving. Songs with clearly defined borders and transitions, with strict rocking backbeats, and clearly delimited space for improvisation. And with Chris Speed’s saxophone as the melody line, since an actual voice part was far from what Black had in mind. He’s not particularly interested in the fixing of musical moods that rapidly arises from song lyrics, and the focused attention that a singer inevitably attracts doesn’t match what he wants to do with this band. On the contrary: however important the refined, fragile sound of his colleague Speed may be to him in conveying these slightly drawn-out, indolent melodies, for Black it’s the group that is at the core of this music: this group of familiar musicians, whose experiences, tastes and talk he shares. With these musicians, who are about his age, who, like him, have grown up with various musical passions, with rock and pop, jazz and classics, ethnic musics of various origins, and like him have decided not to block out any of these diverse areas, but to work with the greatest possible diversity themselves, he can collaborate closely in developing this music on the basis of his own absolutely individual ideas. And of course, the songs on »Habyor« are not that simple: in these songs, Black often declines to go back to the beginning, sets block after block in place, and keeps heading for a new horizon. And so the worlds of sound never get a chance to settle into one category. »Habyor« is not rock, not jazz, not impro, not avant-garde.
There are no certainties here – at every turn, a new flirtation with disaster could be beginning, breaking out into the realm of noise, into big-city chaos, into organised beat. For however much Black may acknowledge the fragile beauty of melody, tension and energy are basically what he is all about.
- Stefan Hentz (translation by Richard Toop)