Although Chris Speed, Brad Shepik, Skuli Sverrisson, and Jim Black have reputations as out jazz cats, they are keenly interested in the traditional musics of regions from the Balkans down to the Mediterranean and across to the Middle East. Since forming Pachora in the late '90s, they have used this particular band to explore folk-based forms from the margin where East meets West, but that doesn't mean they entirely sublimate their distinct musical personalities. They began tugging at the Pachora formula in earnest with their third album, 1999's Ast, which in addition to the odd-metered groovefests and lovely Balkan-flavored melodies included a David Bowie cover together with originals like Sverrisson's "Maria Changed," an album highlight that bracketed its Eastern-tinged middle section with a subtly beautiful melody that tilted toward Western folk and jazz. On 2003's Astereotypical, Pachora's fourth CD and first release on the Winter & Winter label, the band pushes still further against expectations. There are still plenty of opportunities for Speed's round-toned clarinet to dance across the top of infectious grooves fueled by Black's crisp percussion and Sverrisson's deep and supple bass and baritone guitar, and Shepik's virtuosity on the tambura, electric saz, and nylon-stringed guitar is on full display. But what about the abrasive and noisy textures of Speed's "Push," with the entire band filtered through distortion effects? Or the winding circular melody and rhythm of Black's balladic "Snap," not unlike a composition he would write for AlasNoAxis? How about "Bushka Lounge," another Speed piece, with its gathering dissonances and 7/4 groove tumbling into disarray at the tune's conclusion? Or the continued revelation of Sverrisson's playing and compositions, from the flowing neo-classical arpeggios of "Drifting" to the lovely "Nyla," which harks back to "Maria Changed"? Traditionalism is still present, but Pachora also seems open to a wider world of musical possibilities than ever before. Astereotypical is both a peak achievement for the quartet and a recording in which the artistic persona of each bandmember stands in bold relief. And it's unquestionably one of the top CDs of 2003, regardless of genre.
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AllMusic Review by Dave Lynch