Among The Rocks and Roots & RAIC

(Copyright © 2020 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of Use )
Samudra Garba Pathe (2015), 5.5/10
Raga (2018), 6.5/10
RAIC: Love Lingers Like Poison In The Veins (2017), 6/10
RAIC: Lovers Never Leave (2017), 5/10
RAIC: Symbiosis Vol 1 & 2 (2018), 6.5/10
RAIC: Multiplicity (2019), 7.5/10
RAIC: Lamentations (2019), 7/10
RAIC: Haxan (2019), 5/10
RAIC: Chance Operations (2019), 6/10
Shame: White Man (2020) , 6.5/10
Shame: I Don't Like you (2020), 6/10
Grey Wulf: Seeing Vol 1 (2020), 6.5/10
Samuel Goff: Transmissions (2020), 7.0/10

Among The Rocks and Roots, the project of Virginia-based black vocalist and bassist Abdul-Hakim Bilal (aka Grey Wulf) and percussionist Samuel Goff, began a trilogy about drug addiction with the cassette Samudra Garba Pathe (2015), influenced by space-rock a` la Hawkwind and Blue Cheer (the 30-minute License To Depart), doom-metal (the 18-minute Samudra Garba Pathe) and Cleansing/I Call Upon Those Who Inhabit Thee/Thunder Bridge/How Can A Minority Of One Be Right? (15:49)

The double-LP Raga (2018) adds electronics to the arsenal of the duo, but maintains the prefernce for lengthy evolving compositions that straddle multiple genres. Raga (17:33) begins in a theatrical mode, but then turns into a combination of tribal drums and black-metal growls, and ends with a long doom-metal coda. Salvation (27:29) has the feeling of a Satanic ceremony, with multiple voices screaming, infernal drumming, ominous riffs, and a general sense of degradation and perversion. For eight minutes Requiem (24:04) combines industrial rhythm and loud distortions like a colossal machine about to explode, then it loses momentum and seems to implode until the final desperate mayhem. The peak of intensity, however, comes with War Song (21:18), a visceral singalong that turns into a hysterical instrumental jam. In the two discs there are plenty of magical moments but also too many redundant sections. The second disc is the most effective.

Goff and Bilal were members of the noise-jazz improvisational collective RAIC, which stands for Richmond Avant Improv Collective, originally a quartet with saxophonist Erik Schroeder and cellist Zoe Olivia Kinney on the cassette Love Lingers Like Poison In The Veins (2017), that contains the 28-minute free-jazz jam Love Lingers Like Poison In The Veins (as well as a live performance of it) and the more vibrant 14-minute Penance, whereas Lovers Never Leave (2017) documents two chaotic improvisations by Goff with fellow percussionist Sam Byrd, saxophonist Jimmy Ghaphery, guitarist Justin Shear, John Morand on turntables and theremin, and several friends on electronics.

The double-cassette Symbiosis Vol 1 & 2 (2018) was a collaboration between the duo of Goff and Bilal (RAIC) and the trio called Ceremonial Scissors, consisting of Laura Marina (vocals and electronics), Brendan Ginsburg (various instruments) and Zoe Brzezinski (percussion). Reciprocal Altruism (14:06) sounds like Derek Bailey fronting the Art Ensemble Of Chicago, whereas Antagonistic Symbiosis (17:10) is a viscous electronic soundscape that slowly acquires rhythm. Commensalism (18:27), the most visceral piece, is a crescendo of noise dominated by drones of various nature and percussion of various nature.

Multiplicity (2019), performed by a RAIC that has become the quintet of Bilal, Goff, Marina, saxophonist Erik Schroeder and cellist Zoe Olivia Kinney, plus guests such as Jimmy Ghaphery (sopranino saxophone and flute), Tristan Brennis (tenor saxophone), John Bliss (guitar), John Priestley (guitar), Lucas Brode (guitar), Tony Nowotarski (guitar), Jacob Courington (acoustic bass), Tim Harding (bass), Sam Byrd (percussion), and Rei Alvarez (percussion). The album is multiple albums in one, as the style varies dramatically from piece to piece. It opens with their most exuberant jam yet, driven by jazzy horns and tribal percussion, Balance Of The Three (22:41), but then it plunges into the stately psychedelic post-Pink Floyd-ian shoegazing trance of Brugmansia (15:10). Agitato (10:00) sets Marina's Nico-esque invocation in a hostile sonic desert, and Marina's Diamanda Galas-esque agony is contrasted by doom-metal riffs and growls and by a demonic crescendo in Silene Udulata (11:24).

Three months later Lamentations (2019), subtitled "an exploration of the American South in sound, vision and text", featured Goff, Schroeder, Courington, Kinney and Marina (but not Bilal) with new friends like banjo player Paul Metzger, flutist Brandon Simmons, violinists Robert Andrew Scott and John Saint Pelvin. The two longer pieces are rather different: the shamanic-psychedelic Early Music - Lamentations has little in common with the chaotic and feverish Baptism (that evokes tropical jungles more than it does the "American south"). The shorter "songs" range from the distorted psychedelic chant of Possession of the Spirit to the satirical deconstruction of Prey, from the Dadaistic lied of Barrage to the horror nightmare of Casting Out Of Spirits.

Haxan (2019) was conceived as a soundtrack to Benjamin Christense's 1922 silent horror film, improvised in front of the screen by Goff, Bilal, Ghaphery, Schroeder, Kinney, Marina, Priestley and vibraphonist Cary Ralston. Witch Trials (8:44) exales a sense of macabre and sickness, but the rest is too diluted and unfocused.

The double-disc Chance Operations (Blight, 2019), inspired by John Cage's aleatoric music, contains pieces improvised by randomly selected ensembles from a cast of about 20 musicians (Goff, Bilal, Schroeder, Marina, Ghaphery, Simmons, Scott, Courington, Priestley, baritone saxophonist Madeline Billhimer, guitarists Kelly MacDonald and Lucas Brode, percussionists Kyler O'Brien and Richard Schellenberg, saxophonists Fred McGann, vocalist Maura Pond, Benjamin Schurr, Levi Flack, Natalie Quick, Brandon Whittaker). An otherworldly chant is conjured by sparse percussion and electronics in Conjuring Spirits (14:41), and a sorrowful sax melody is hatched by the rumbling drone of La Grande Odalisque (8:26). These are the two key moments of the album, especially the latter. Complicated Advisory (7:27), another highlight, sounds like Jimi Hendrix playing dub music. The tribal Because An Elephant Stepped On A SeeSaw (8:59) is a creative piece for drums and other percussion. There are intriguing moments in the loud and quiet movement of Drowning Sonnet (16:02), in the subdued and then explosive We Bury Our Own (12:54), and in the dreamy and sparse soundscape of Picture Plant Jacuzzi (11:27), but the improvised nature of the improvisations (sorry for the pun) does take a toll on quality, often yielding bloated pieces that need a while to take shape and don't know how to end.

Bilal also launched the noise-electronic side-project Shame with EPs such as Smile (2018) and the albums White Man (2020), which mostly sounds like the sound of a building on fire (Throbbing, Flies), with the notable exception of the ear-splitting intergalactic signals of Bliss, and the more subtle I Don't Like you (2020), with the psychedelic trance of Transmission Dreams (a career highlight) and the hyperbass drones of White Myth.

Bilal also played drums in noise-rock quartet Faucet and in black-metal trio Och. He also released a solo album under the moniker Grey Wulf, Seeing Vol 1 (2020), that contains the droning melodic ambient instrumental Storm Passes (9:12) as well as trance-y celestial chants like Reaching Into Snow (8:47) and Hallway of Hands. Very different from the power-electronics of Shame, from the free-form chaos of RAIC and from the industrial horror of Among The Rocks and Roots.

Goff debuted solo with Transmissions (2020), a tour de force of musique concrete for chopped-up and scrambled samples and electronics, especially the elegant cubistic fresco Pikeville (7:49) and the visceral and stormy Transmissions Part One (14:58) and Transmissions Part Two (13:51). He even applies the method to dance music in The Industrial Revolution (14:43), with a catastrophic and incendiary ending.

(Copyright © 2020 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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