FAUST/DALEK : Nummer 3 Parts 1 and 2. (Bomb Mitte)
HiM : Many In High Places Are Not Well (FatCat. FATCD28)
PETER BROTZMANN : The Chicago Octet/Tentet (Okkadisk. OD12022)

The sight and sound of a jiffy bag coming through the letterbox is always a welcome one, especially when the contents promise something interesting to listen to, as has happened this week. All different but equally exciting.

The first Faust record I owned was on vinyl and now they have another release on the shiny black stuff. This time it's a limited edition 7 inch collaboration with Dalek and is a taster of an album which will appear later this year. Collaborations appear to be part of the current Faust direction and it would seem to be a productive area to explore.

Given the relative brevity of the two sides it's difficult to see what the larger picture of this merger of two fairly disparate units will look like. But from listening to this small sample it looks as though it will be a creative coalition. On Part 1 there are some characteristic industrial grindings going on around the distorted anger of Will Brooks rapping. There is a strong sense of alienation here: ´I was only placed here to bleed, maybe breed' The metal noisescape complements the harsh disturbing quality of the voice. This gradually gives way to a clanking bass and muffled percussive explosions which dominate most of Part 2. But the whole thing, typically, shifts in and out of focus leaving a dense wall of sound in which it is just possible to recognise what may be the mutated wail of Irmler's keyboard. Overall they've created a piece that oscillates between moments of clarity and a blurred, nightmarish wash of electronica.

As a taster it does its job and whets the appetite for what will hopefully be another stage in the evolution of both Faust and Dalek.

Another band that seems to undergo constant evolution is HiM, a loosely conjoined collective of horns, guitars, bass and drums and other instruments. This release sees a development from their ´New Features' cd with the line-up, gathered around founder Doug Scharin, expanded to 17 players though not all at once. Theirs is a brisk groove-driven sound full of solid interlocked percussion, mobile bass with horns riffing and occasionally soloing. The opening track ´Elementals' reminded me of Julian Bahula's African jazz/funk outfit, Jabula, the horns locking in tight rhythmic unison over string bass and busy percussion.

An interesting addition to the textures is the kora playing of Abdou M'boup who is featured on a couple of tracks including the title where his strings shimmer and cascade. For the first time, there are vocals in English and French which add further texture and rhythmic diversity rather than conveying any strong lyrical message. The familiar slide guitar makes a few appearances adding a mellow flavour to the overall HiM ambience. Elsewhere a more distorted guitar floats in fuzzy sustain on ´Perspective From A Slow Spin', combining the expansive sound of the guitar and spectral presence of a trumpet is particularly effective.

Aside from the tribal rhythms there are some dub-ish effects used sparingly and they bring a further spacey quality to the music and there is a lot of space here, despite the percussive drive of much of the set.

Weighing in as the undisputed heavyweight of the week's listening has to be Peter Brotzmann with his Chicago Octet/Tentet. His own presence on various saxes, clarinet and tarogato, is massive and this three cd limited edition brings together some of the most vociferous players who've gravitated to the thriving jazz scene in the Windy City. It combines versions of compositions by the Octet/Tentet in the studio and ´live', offering several members of the band the opportunity to compose for the titanic line-up. And while Brotzmann and friends are often thought of as ferocious free blowing jazzers there are a couple of pieces here which may surprise some fans. Drummer, Michael Zerang's ´Aziz' on cd1 is one of the ´live' pieces and is a smouldering meeting of the tentet which builds on the drums and Kent Kessler's grounded, funky bass. Between it's theme which is simple and somewhat anthemic, there are snatches of bass clarinet, trombone and cello as well as the collective power of the tentet. It is powerful but demonstrates a sense of restraint. Similarly, Zerang and Hamid Drake's ´Makapoor' makes use of a steady ostinato bass to underpin the controlled front line of the tentet. The composition leaves plenty of room for individual voices and collective improvisation and there is a delicate duet near the end between cello and bass before the horns restate the opening theme.

Throughout the cds there are plenty of moments for which Brotzmann and friends are duly renowned; large, feverish improvisations which feature, for me, some of the best collective playing I've heard. Try his ´Burning Spirit' for an example of what I mean. From the opening blast you feel the power of the Octet in full-voiced unison but the piece also breaks down to give small groupings of the band space to trade ideas off each other, as when Jeb Bishop's trombone and Fred Lonberg-Holm's cello join forces. Several of the compositions work this way with room for sections of the band to improvise before coming back to the score. It's an impressive set, well packaged and presented and, as ever, an antidote to much of the anaemic product that is marketed as 'jazz'.

© 2003 Paul Donnelly