Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019

by Tim Owen

March 22, 2011


For all their efforts "Electric Fruit" remains essentially sketchy stuff.

Weasel Walter, Mary Halvorson, Peter Evans

“Electric Fruit”

(Thirsty Ear)

As a purely acoustic and fully improvised session, Electric Fruit is an interesting release for the Thirsty Ear label, which has characteristically sought a rapprochement with jazz and the sort of beat-driven electronics more readily associated with dance music. It’s a three-way dialogue between Weasel Walter on drums; Mary Halvorson, guitar; and Peter Evans, trumpet, all of whom have distinguished themselves - Halvorson and Evans internationally; Walter thus far mostly in America - in various contexts over the past few years, so it’s a particularly enticing prospect in any case.

Both Evans and Halvorson are the product of advanced musical educations. Halvorson has been a student of Anthony Braxton’s at Wesleyan University, while Evans graduated from The Oberlin Conservatory of Music. They are arguably the most creative new voices of recent times on their respective instruments. Having come up through the alternative route of outsider rock, Walter’s chops maybe aren’t as refined, though all the second-hand evidence suggests that he’s a dynamic, ferociously committed catalyst for non-idiomatic music, and his presence promises to galvanise this session.

Until recently Weasel Walter led The Flying Luttenbachers, a project (ultimately it was Walter operating solo) dealing in hard-headedly non-idiomatic jazz primitivism. Apparently fellow Chicagoans Ken Vandermark and Fred Lomberg-Holm have both participated at one time or another. In the Luttenbachers context Walter played in a confrontational style informed by post-punk; a style related to Kevin Shea’s, but looser. Now he seems to want to put that behind him, to develop an improv style totally divorced from rock. It’s a development to watch with interest, but the transition is still at that awkwardly adolescent stage at which what isn’t played is just as important as what is. On this date, at least, Walter eschews the drummer’s rhythmic responsibilities for a more ambiguous contribution. There’s a mission statement of sorts on his official website: “?to sit here and crank out high quality skronk for those of you who want it. Uncompromising and uncompromised”. And yes, that’s evident enough here, but there’s clearly a great deal of fierce, galvanising energy going untapped. It’s Halvorson who most often instigates changes of tone or disposition, most often playing unanticipated cards, while, as one might expect, much of the melodic form is imposed by Evans. For all their efforts, however, “Electric Fruit” remains essentially sketchy stuff.

The first minutes of “The Stench of Cyber-Durian” are the most successful, with Halvorson initially moving through a series of variations with all notes lively and cleanly articulated, and Walter at his most fluid and responsive, displaying, for once, terrific control of the groups’ power/control dynamic. Evans plays a supporting role until the appropriate moment comes to solo, and his solo then has a song-like eloquence. He terminates the solo with a flurry of circular breath control that’s eventually bought to bay by Halvorson, rudely interjecting a skein of now gritty amped-up guitar. After six minutes the passage is effectively over, but they play on for another five. The first moments of the following “The Pseudocarp Walks Among Us” suggest a perhaps even more promising compositional shape, but that shape is soon shrugged off. The rest of the track, like the bulk of the album, proceeds through a string of often astonishing musical incidents, but nothing which amounts to much more than that. The session was captured at a recording studio, but there’s no evidence that the potentialities of the studio have been exploited for any mixing or editing, and that’s a great pity. The detail in the sound is terrific, however.

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