All Time Present,
Good Vibrations/No Expectations
(Evolving Ear, 2000)

Guitar trios are, of course, most often the root of desultory technical one-upmanship. Not this one. Although the press release sees the guitarists claiming "fluency in jazz- and rock-derived tonal improvisation," it's not evident from the tracks on this record, which betray regular deficiencies.

I doubt whether any of them could cut it in a moderately easy bebop number. But that isn't the point. This is music much more concerned with sound, rhythm and visceral effect.

At its best -- as on the extended seventh track -- the band is formidable enough, forming an intelligible quarter-hour of music. The two drummers do sterling work here, and I would happily listen to them on their own; a mixture of jazz and Keith Moon rock ricocheting around the stereo field to superb effect. There's certainly a connection with the noise-improv school here, but this is far from a relentless, headlong rush. One of the commendable things about this band is its use of light and shade, its ability to play very aggressively or rather dreamily as the need arises. Drummers David Gould and Toshi Makihara are excellent at this, blasting out one moment and delicately colouring the next. They are inseperable on this CD, their playing is so interlocked by mutual understanding.

Guitarists Chris Forsyth, Rich Gross and Ethan Sklar are also indistinguishable, although someone familiar with their individual styles could probably pick them apart. In this group, they all favour a rather clean electric guitar sound. All three come from a broadly rock background, however, and while they've got a handful of the usual extended techniques, their approaches to articulation are uniformly dodgy. When scraping or popping the strings, they get away with it, but when they come to play some notes they give themselves away, lacking as they do the skill to make their lines or licks sound anything other than cake-handed. Which is a shame, because there are sme splendid ideas here and the group cooperates extremely well.

This disc has many things to recommend it, and the fact that there are three guitarists here is one of them. Just one of these guys would in no way be able to sustain an hour of such exposed music; instead, these three work together and with much supression of ego to create an ensemble music which is impressive in its coherence and degree of shared vision. It sounds patronising to say it, but this band would probably be fantastic if the guitarists were just a little more polished, not in a "professional" sense but in their attention to detail and ability to execute their ideas fully. An intimate, intermittently exciting, occasionally frustrating record.

[ by Richard Cochrane ]