A jazz band that plays rock! A rock band that plays punk-jazz! An avant-garde no wave band that plays either Israeli or African forms (depending on which of these combinations counts as “new music”)! The phrasing is mine, but the labels themselves come to you courtesy of Hypercolor’s press release. As you can tell, they are another one of those new bands tough to categorize. Having their eponymous album released on the Tzadik label probably muddies your impressions further — and no, Hypercolor are not Jewish jazz. Another thing that they aren’t is a “new” band. This may be their first album, but it has been close to eight years in the making. And before that, all three members of Hypercolor were toiling away on their own careers. Guitarist Eyal Maoz is a New York six-string slinger for hire and has performed in John Zorn’s Cobra. Bassist James Ilgenfritz likes to approach the legendary composers of today to commission solo bass works. Drummer Lukas Ligeti — yes, of that Ligeti family — has played with too many modern musicians of note to mention here. Hypercolor, in theory at least, appears to be a supergroup made up of three musical Swiss army knives — versatile and prone to devolve into a clunky, egotistical mess.
But this is a band that prides itself on not having their disparate interests clash with one another. In the words of the same press release, “[the members of Hypercolor] collide their multifarious interests into one another like a post-modern demolition derby, pulling from the wreckage a sound that is as intricate as it is aggressive.” Now, what in the hell would that sound like? A simple way to brew up a guess it to pick apart what each member brings to the table. Maoz provides the Israeli scales. Ilgenfritz was trained in jazz and classical traditions but calls himself a “noise-rock enthusiast”. Being a percussionist, Ligeti has soaked up considerable African polyrhythmic influences over time. And being the son of György Ligeti, he is plenty familiar with European modes. Rather than everyone trying to play their styles all at once, Hyperolor‘s many moments are assembled from these many styles. Pinning one musical genre to one particular track isn’t going to work. The dial is constantly moving with Hypercolor, in a manner that makes it sound like the most natural music there is.
The first track “Squeaks” may not be the most perfet example of what the rest of the album sounds like, but it adequately prepares you. Ligeti is holding down a startlingly complex beat with Ilgenfritz at his side. Moaz enters with thick, perfectly articulated descending guitar chords. Just past halfway through the track, Moaz lets his playing fall apart almost completely with pick scrapes, pitch-shifting and plenty of other non-note noises. As he picks up on a previously hinted-at melody, he screws with his sound even more. The band builds up steam and the song ends at the 2:15 mark. Moaz’s songs range from full on rock like “Squeaks” or the equally brief and intense “Palace” to a post-rock moment by the river with “Forget”. Ilgenfritz definitely has a more angular approach to how he writes melodies — “Glowering” sounds like an old drunk who is constantly forgetting where he is, whereas “Chen” is the little kid with ADHD who is constantly forgetting where he is. Ligeti contributes only one composition, the oddly-named “Ernesto, Do You Have a Cotton Box?” It too is built from an indecisive melody that sounds like it required quite a bit of rehearsal.
There is no shortage of new noise bands out there and for those who are paying attention to the current avant-garde scene, it might be frustrating to know which ones are the real deal and which ones are just yanking our chain. Hypercolor, only one album into their collective career, have a few factors on their side. First, all three members were well established before playing together. Secondly, they come with John Zorn’s blessing. And hey, they are named after a line of shirts that changed color when heat was applied. They are true mutants.