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Stade are a Swiss semi-electronica duo consisting of drummer Christophe Calpini and sampler/looper/synthesist Pierre Audétat. Freewheel consists of 15 tracks recorded between 2004 and 2005 with three alternating guest musicians: guitarist Elliott Sharp, harmonica player Grégoire Maret, and trumpeter Erik Truffaz. The music was largely improvised without overdubs, and while much of it sounds jazzy in a general sort of way (thanks largely to Calpini's swinging drums), none of it can really be considered jazz -- instead, it represents a sort of dark experimentalism that tends to involve steady rhythmic grooves while constantly undermining their coherence with weird noises and sonic treatments. This kind of thing is hit or miss by definition, and Freewheel can hardly be called an unalloyed triumph; "Triceratops at Work" (which features Truffaz) never quite coheres, and "Innercoast Whispers" (which features Maret) meanders rather aimlessly. But the high points are thrilling. On "Introscape," Truffaz's trumpet evokes Jon Hassell, and he shines on "Horologi Forcasts" as well. Elliott Sharp is his usual brilliant and rather abrasive self, demonstrating his formidable chops on "Midnight Summer Volcano" and working wild wonders with his slide guitar on the slow and funky "West Virginia Remix." One's response to the Grégoire Maret tracks will depend largely upon one's attitude toward the harmonica; it's an instrument that lends itself more to melody than to experimental craziness, and it tends to evoke either bluesiness or a sort of sidewalk café feeling. In Maret's hands it does more of the latter than the former, and works especially well on the jittery, slightly jungle-flavored "Black Parrot Arising." Overall, Freewheel is impressive but will probably be best enjoyed in measured doses.

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