This CD is planned as the first of a three-part series by a trio featuring the 8-string guitarist cum bassist Chris Hunter, and Bobby Previte, who has here rather more than drums to hand. I don’t know who will guest on the other two CDs, and on what instrument(s). Here Greg Osby is the third man, on alto saxophone. From the Internet I read that “Groundtruther is a tool that can be used to keep accurate positioning information for multiple vehicles during field tests.” Is this the basis of the ensemble’s name?
From Thirsty Ear notes I read of Previte’s “use of electronic drums to trigger samples live and employ his percussion as a tonal instrument that intertwines with Hunter’s [playing]”. Unable as I seem to be to take that too seriously, I’m really pleased that Previte seems similarly incapable. There’s no lack of animation or fun; there’s no pretentiousness. .
I’m not pleased by such cant rhetoric as “Osby’s lyricism is morphed into countless shapes and colors”, but he does play extraordinarily well, managing an impressive tonal variety, echo-affected or not, staying within the general range explored on his horn within its wide and stylistically pre-Coltrane range. Hunter plays decent swinging bass as required, and a fair variety of the other things possible with his big bespoke instrument.
On the opening “North Pole” Previte plays around with synthesized orchestral sounds which would definitely sound pompous (morph, morph) if scored for symphony orchestra. If he’s not being ironic, I still reserve the right to find a lot of this music fun. The blurb says that he (implying at least sometimes) improvises on his electronics. Obviously he’s practiced a lot, since he does sound spontaneous.
Hunter makes some abdominal rock guitar noises, duetting away with Osby on “Arctic Circle”. On “40th Parallel” he starts off with twanging noises of a sort grown more than hackneyed enough in Spaghetti Westerns to glow now with irony. Historians may remember Duane Eddy, who I presume never dreamed of atmospheric fantasies like this lot.
“Horse Latitudes North” seems to owe something to the sounds of a huge steam engine huffing and groaning to get moving on iced tracks—a scene now belonging to Westerns and other historical films. I’m not sure whether this noisy monster ever manages to overcome wheelspin and budge the mile of wagons behind it. “Tropic of Cancer” at times suggests that the train has not only got going, it has attained quite a scary pace. What could its stopping distance be, if it can stop? Animal noises and ethnic musicians are somewhere aboard or in the vicinity. Or are they exponents of true World Music, given the programming titles of the successive items on this long journey south?
Osby plays gently among the electronic noises—guitar and otherwise—of “Equator”, the tubular bells and contra-bass trombones, maybe even a singularly alarmed-sounding telephone, not to mention those electric pencil-sharpeners George Russell set whirring at the beginning of Creation. Rather than self-indulgence, the ringing dinging and clanging sound like fun.
Osby again plays fleetly and softly in the cavernous acoustic of “Tropic of Capricorn”, where it’s hard to distinguish the indigenous jungle-cries from the messages, conversation and machine noises from apparently aliens belonging to three or more different galaxies.
By “Horse Latitudes North” the jungle drums are needed to forestall a sense of monotony inherent in extensive use of transistors. I do believe there is a eunuch singing, while Hunter shifts into a fairly conventional riff. But then a large number of shrilling tribesmen seem to have foregathered.
Happily the magic of modern science has translated the trio to “Tropic of Calms” before anything there was anything nasty. There seems to be a distant Gerry Mulligan among the intense spaces of guitar and Previte-apparatus tolling. Is that the Great Bell of Kiev I hear? Tinny echoey clatterings sound out in the depths as the baritonal saxophone shrinks into I don’t know what it shrinks into.
Osby opens “Antarctic Circle” solo, as if prefacing a ballad performance. The baritone ghost resurfaces, Osby hovers on a pianissimo trill and I have no idea what these quiet Previte noises are before the guitar comes in over a sort of maraca business, and Osby is on the coda of the ballad which never was, and Hunter clanging away. An orca sings a few bars and comes back and sings a few more, all this in the middle of one of those extended circling passages musicians perform in the expectation of an engineer applying a fade somewhere for the issued disc. We are coming up to seven minutes in the Antarctic—and on the stroke of the seventh there is a serious groan (from what? From whom?) and the fade still hasn’t been applied. Eight minutes and what are they waiting for?
Oh, it’s stopped!
That was what they were hanging on for.
Hunter is at “South Pole” playing his guitar quietly, aliens are wailing and maybe Balkan bagpipers, expressing bewilderment at being there. Ooooeeeeeeeoooooooooaw. This is presumably the haunted disorientated state of the absolute whiteness, with echoes of echoes, sirens, when it is impossible to . . .
Well, when it’s impossible.
What other sort of review could be written about anything like this? Half way round or down the world in three quarters of an hour from pole to pole, and in the photographs of the musicians Previte looks quizzical, Hunter is grinning broadly and Osby might be on the edge of bursting into a huge laugh. It’s one to share; the laugh’s only on anybody who can’t relish this music as something immensely playful, and is thus liable to miss what else there is to it. It’s not trivial at all.