Catonapotato is a new live CD from everyone’s favorite ethno-industrial free jazz collagists, Volcano the Bear. Recorded throughout Europe in 2004 by the duo of Aaron Moore and Nick Mott (VTB is usually a trio with the addition of Daniel Padden), these tracks capture two musicians that willfully exist in the margins yet always maintain an accessible kinetic base. Volcano the Bear’s music is performed and recorded live by people who insist on being anything but predictable as they navigate through multiple stylistic dimensions. A random sampling of any VTB album yields passages of art pop whimsy, industrial drone, Middle Eastern folk, free jazz communion — sometimes all in the same song. Each studio album has exhibited an erratic, rough-hewn quality that combines early minimal sound sculpture with DIY art punk aesthetics. The results are always spontaneous in Volcano the Bear’s hands, and Catonapotato is no exception. It just happens to include some audience noise.
“Gabriel” sets things on fire from the get-go with lumbering jazz percussion driving scorching bow work, slashing its way through the dank air in rabid atonal streaks. The piece eventually builds to a propulsive gallop before shifting to a minimal dream, quickly swallowed by guttural groans rumbling straight from the belly of the Volcano. Next come caveman drums, shrill brass squawks, and the sounds of other bizarre ethnic instrumentation being severely abused. All this is but a teaser for the industrial jazz dirge of “A Universal History of Infamy”. Here, the boys dig in deeper with mournful bows against a mélange of percussive whoosh and clatter as stoned vocal chants writhe in agony. The chanting is levitated intensely over nearly ten minutes and broken up with stochastic interludes of swampland jazz and strange tones.
“Lovely Shepherd” is two minutes of meditative Middle Eastern horns that eventually explode into the Aylere-sque free jazz assault of “Puppy Grill”: blurting sax runs over collapsed drum rolls. It proves that these cats can swing with the best of ’em when they want to. Through it all though, that brittle Volcano edge remains.
Things get both more direct and devotional with the stark primitive pulse of “My Favorite Tongues”, sort of a cross between Sun City Girls and early Velvets, with a minimal fractured guitar and vocals intertwining as perfectly as anything these lads have conjured to date.
“Ong Pate” downshifts into minimal tones and rustling percussive clatter beneath childlike vocal murmurs. It’s the kind of track VTB likes to drop occasionally to throw the listener off the trail. The injection of clacking percussion and bizarre noisemakers, along with deep elastic bass tones, lands them squarely in the Nurse With Wound nightmare factory. “Sharp Is the Queen’s Teeth” conveys a similar icy minimalism, this time with just reverb drenched minor key guitar plucks. Not surprisingly, the effect is utterly transporting across its length of just over four minutes, percussive thwacks inserted just halfway building to a glorious krautrock freak out.
Somehow, closer “The Gods Are Massive” manages to sound like nothing that’s come before. Just think about that for a moment. With plodding percussion, detuned guitar, and atonal bows beneath disturbed vocals, the piece amounts to a crashing clang fest that honors both the squealing minimal trances of Tony Conrad and the dusted art clang of the Dead C. It’s hard to believe that just two people made this track, let alone the entire album, but then that’s the undeniable beauty of this record. Catonapotato is the height of avant-garage sonic exploration captured in its most feral state.