Cactus Truck's Live in USA CD is packaged in a sleeve with the dimensions of an oversized postcard, and the music is oversized to match. The Amsterdam-based trio -- saxophonist John Dikeman, bassist/guitarist Jasper Stadhouders, drummer Onno Govaert -- plays high-voltage free jazz with only scattered respites across the disc's 71-plus-minute length. The liners say that the album features three nearly complete performances, which suggests that the group's shows might be on the short side, but given the energy expended here, it would seem that lengthy shows could be hazardous to the bandmembers' health. Cactus Truck played 37 shows from coast to coast across the States from late October to mid-December 2012, and the first two tracks here, the 17-plus-minute "Prairie Oyster" and ten-minute "Seans Gone," were recorded at Squidco Records in Wilmington, North Carolina with Jeb Bishop guesting on trombone; it was merely their fourth show, when they had hardly started their cross-country ramble and apparently had lots of energy to burn. Stadhouders and Govaert produce a tumultuous racket beneath Dikeman's brawling, overblown Brötzmann-esque howls, pushed through his sax by the lungful as Bishop slips, slides, and blurts his own agitated commentary. Suddenly Dikeman and Govaert hand the reins entirely to Bishop and a noisy, chunky Stadhouders -- plus an enthusiastic audience member -- until a thicket of clipped sax and 'bone phrases accompanied by rolling drums escalates into a flat-out noise assault. And we're only halfway through the first track of the maelstrom that is Live in USA.
Cactus Truck admit on the front cover that the disc's audio "is less than hi-fi," but that merely adds to the rough ambience of the experience. And actually, Cactus Truck modulate their intensity now and then, and perhaps more importantly possess enough mastery of extended technique -- as when Stadhouders switches to what sounds like mutant slide guitar -- to create a sonic variety show. The middle portion of the CD catches the core trio at Astro Black Records in Louisville, Kentucky in the tour's waning days; they are clearly in no mood to kick back and relax with a few mint juleps, with the relatively brief "The Twerk" (featuring Stadhouders on noise guitar) escalating into sheer mayhem and the even briefer "Magnum Eyebrow" (with a stop-on-a-dime finish) presenting the sax-bass-drums configuration at its best. The hardcore burst of "Wedding Present" clocks in at 27 seconds, over half of which consists of scattered applause, and suddenly we're off to the tour's final show at JACK in N.Y.C., with the band stretching out on the 21-plus-minute "Ninja" and guest trumpeter Roy Campbell sharing the stage. With notes, sound, and noise modulated across a huge dynamic range and Campbell afforded plenty of opportunities to stand out, the trumpeter must have felt as if he had joined a youthful 21st century variant of Brötzmann's Die Like a Dog Quartet. And Cactus Truck still didn't sound like they were ready to go back home to Amsterdam.