Where Ton Art's Zú was an angular mix and match of all the dying music styles of the 20th century whose parts were used to create something new and different, it was still an effort that required the blending of those styles by musicians who had different approaches to them. Here, that sextet with two more years of grafting and extrapolating under their belts has expanded to a nonet, offering more opportunities than ever for cultural and musical terrorism. The group's latest offering is more solid, but less solidly any one thing. The new band adds Michael Moser's cello, Susana Heilmayer on baroque oboe and viola, and Tom Varner on French horn to the septet's alto sax, bass clarinet, bass, drums, trumpet, flugelhorn, and guitar mix. What is revealed on Mal Vu Mal Dit Is not so much the destruction of the rules of any particular game but a band that experiments musically with the rules of any of those games they devise as a whole. So, the CD begins by reaching deeply into 1930s jazz and serial tone rows to make them swing as in "Good Luck George Washington & Kim Novak" by Tom Varner and arranged by Hans Steiner. Here avant-garde improvisation sits atop smattered ostinato muted trumpet figures and glissandi strings and a horn section playing a section of Schöenberg's Moses und Aaron in blues time. The centerpiece of the album is guitarist Burkhard Stangl's "Neun Passages," a jazz work so complex it cannot be contained within the term. The charts are all written for instruments playing at the top of their registers in varying harmonies, with no discernible melodic framework between them. Intermittent passages of improvisation, almost always brief, are layered between repetitious lines and ostinato figures. Shades of Milhaud and Henry Cowell are layered in between swing measures, and Berg makes an appearance next to Bud Powell and "Little Rootie Tootie!." The strange thing is, with all the celebratory jazz, the piece is, for the most part, bleak, moody, and strung with a harmonic counterpoint that extracts almost all the color from its palette. Perhaps this meditation on melancholy results in the free jazz "Suite pur des Voleurs," dedicated to Jean-Luc Godard by Steiner. Here, free blowing and loose, harmonic collages abound, carrying the entire band over into a morass of gorgeous cacophony. Rhythm and meter disappear into the vanishing specters of melodic presences where only tonality and voicings count for expression. By and large, though the charts are more complex and the music more dense, and thus more demanding on listeners to find themselves in the music, Mal Vu Mal Dit is deeply satisfying as a record of changes in how we perceive the relationship between musical history and music, and how deeply fixed our ideas about harmony, melody, and rhythm can be and still allow for angular, even jagged intrusions to widen our perspective.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek