Photo: Evan Jenkins / Courtesy of Thrill Jockey Records

Jim White and Marisa Anderson’s ‘The Quickening’ Takes an Experimental Journey

Avant-garde drummer Jim White and folk guitarist Marisa Anderson get together without rehearsing to see what happens on The Quickening.

The Quickening
Jim White and Marisa Anderson
Thrill Jockey
15 May 2020

Drummer/percussionist Jim White is best known as a founding member of the instrumental avant-garde Australian rock trio, Dirty Three. Guitarist Marisa Anderson is a celebrated solo performer who frequently works in blues and folk idioms. While the duo may seem to be unlikely collaborators, both artists are known to improvise and experiment on their instruments. White and Anderson’s technical abilities allow them to explore new sounds and rhythms without seeming pretentious or cheesy. The two met while on the road together in 2015 as parts of different acts. White was playing with the free-jazz band Xylouris White while Anderson was performing solo.

The Quickening was initially recorded in Portland, Oregon in late 2018. The pair later headed to Mexico City as a way to inspire fresh ideas and finished the project at a formerly abandoned studio. White and Anderson didn’t rehearse before the sessions. They let spontaneity guide them. The results reveal their individual talents and their shared connections. The resulting music ranges from moments of quiet beauty to loud instrumental primal screams. The ten tracks are relatively brief, lasting from two to five minutes in length, but because of their exploratory nature, the songs frequently seem longer. There’s something condensed and intense about these compositions.

A warning to the uninitiated: this is experimental music. The result can sound like two people discordantly warming up one moment and then incandescently charming the next. There are no strict melodies, rhythms, or tempos as much as there are constantly changing ones delivered in a kind of spiritual conversation. The magic of music itself is the rationale and motivation for what gets performed.

The names of the individual cuts reveal little about what they sound like. “The Other Christmas Song” bears no resemblance to any other holiday tunes. Anderson strums resonantly over White’s scattered licks on the drum kit. There’s a definite pulse throughout the tune but not really any beats. There is something joyous about the whole thing, befitting the Christmas spirit referred to, yet nothing specifically referential. Think of it as the delight one experiences when opening presents, although there is no reason to believe that was the musicians’ intent.

Other song titles include “Gathering”, “Unwritten”, “18 to 1”, and other cryptic monikers. They all are part of the same musical investigations. Their beginnings and ends seem plucked from the air. There are no nods to hip-hop, pop, classic jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, or folk. The music just is and exists on its own plane.

Ironically, “The Quickening” is the longest track on the record at 5:14. Of course, quickening does not mean quickest, but it does suggest making something faster or perhaps the first fetal movements of a baby in the womb. The former definition is suggested by the speed of Anderson hitting the strings and White’s rapid nipping at the drums. The pair never slow down unless it is to pick up speed again on another riff. The cut ends abruptly without diminishing in strength.

The Quickening draws attention to itself because it refuses to concede to formula. The two musicians got together because of a shared appreciation of improvisation. The results suggest the pair shared the same aims as the sound of them both together overwhelms their separate performances. Fans of both artists will find value in their union.

RATING 7 / 10