Black Aces was the initial RareNoise collaboration between keyboardist Jamie Saft and guitarist Joe Morris. Issued in 2013, it showcased the pair in a jam rock super session with bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Balazs Pandi. That aesthetic is not entirely absent from Plymouth, the self-titled debut offering from their new band with drummer Gerald Cleaver, guitarist Mary Halvorson, and bassist Chris Lightcap, though 21 century electric free jazz is perhaps more accurate. There are three long tunes here, the shortest of which is over 13 minutes. As important as the music Plymouth plays on this date is the production. Saft plays a variety of organs, acoustic piano filtered through an Echoplex, and a Fender Rhodes. Lightcap's bass is a hollow-body electric played with a fuzz pedal. Both Halvorson and Morris use everything from chambered reverb to wah-wah pedals and distortion. While Cleaver's drum kit is acoustic, it too is put through changes in post-production. This is 21st century free jazz, informed by the individual and collective ability of the players to find ground to explore, dialogue, and challenge one another, though the trappings are those of an instrumental rock band. Halvorson and Morris (her former teacher) represent two distinct voices, and generations, of electric guitar playing. Their careful listening results in intense exploratory conversations that almost always root out or suggest harmonic centers displacing them to move further on with fierce drive, dialogic ingenuity, and taste. As evidenced beautifully on "Manomet," Saft comes almost straight from the blues with a rock musician's attitude and a jazzman's discipline. He's the hub of this burning wheel. Lightcap and Cleaver operate from the fringes in shifting and sliding everything onward, their rhythmic pulse constant yet fluid. "Plimouth" begins with sparse, tender, almost balladic intention, it fragments into shards before rebuilding in a maelstrom of churning abstraction; stacked layers of piano and Jon Lord-esque organs create a body for the other players to dissemble and reconstruct. The same occurs in closer "Standish," but the long introduction (the piece is nearly half-an-hour) is far more spectral, blurry, and spacious. At the eight-minute mark, the guitars and organs erect a denser, more angular architecture. Saft's long, wafting soul-jazz chromatics are forceful; he, Cleaver, and Lightcap become a crackling, rhythmically inventive contrast to the guitarists' interplay. The latter two don't compete; they find one another in the swirl of texture and color and twin their approaches in a cracked mirror. There is no time for ultimate resolution because every idea is its own. Anyone remotely predisposed to free jazz and/or rock should find an awful lot to like on Plymouth. This band has thrown down a gauntlet both musically and sonically. They've brought together several genre languages and made something unique from the lot.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek