Maybe Dutch alto and bari saxman Dirk Bruinsma needed more (musical) structure in his life. His longest-running band, Blast, began in 1989 playing rather thoroughly composed music and moved inexorably toward almost complete improvisation by the 21st century. Possibly tormented by an overriding desire to see notes scribbled on a page, in 2002 Bruinsma showed up in a tight four-piece, Brown vs Brown, that largely ditched the improvisational stuff in favor of abrasive rock with herky-jerky rhythms, abrupt compositional shifts, and a noisy and aggressive attack, as heard on the group’s 2010 Cuneiform label debut (and second album overall), Odds and Unevens. The Brown vs Brown sound is not far from where Blast started, although this Amsterdam-based quartet ratchets up the grungy textures thanks primarily to Dutch guitarist Jeroen Kimman and Finnish bassist Viljam Nybacka, who often churn out the sort of rough gravelly tones favored by kids of the post-everything generation. Not that early Blast were sonically clear and pristine, mind you, but let’s just say that Brown vs Brown have amped up the noise just a tad. With this marriage of rock dirt and somewhat arty compositional strategies, the group fits squarely among other new millennium Cuneiform signings like Leb Bib, Zevious, and Upsilon Acrux. And despite Bruinsma, at around a decade older than his bandmates, being the comparative elder statesman here, Brown vs Brown aren’t just a vehicle for him, but rather a quartet of true equals.
The 47-minute Odds and Unevens is assaultive from the get-go with the eight-and-a-half-minute “Whirlpool,” as Kimman seems to channel a bit of Larks' Tongues-era Robert Fripp and Bruinsma’s blurty baritone synchs up with Austrian drummer Gerri Jäger’s stop-start drum pattern. Bruinsma switches to alto for some wide-interval alto lines underpinned by Kimman’s jangly guitar chords, and soon the entire band is chopping and dicing the rhythms to smithereens before cooling off and taking a breather. But after some machine-gun assaults from the drums and bass, the band is back into its crazed rhythms and angular, twisty sax lines suggesting Tim Berne gone grunge. To complete the effect, somebody screams in the background along with the guitar, just to make sure the listener hasn’t fallen asleep. Speaking of sounds that emanate from mouths without the intervention of musical instruments, there is some singing here and there, but vocal-averse listeners (if any exist these days) needn’t fear an overload. Bruinsma himself sings and seems to declaim something about “a boa constrict-TOR” in an arty tenor to baritone during “Sang Froid,” but so many other things happen -- a clattering cacophony of percussion and clipped instrumental phrases, an outburst of sax-driven funk-rock, and Bruinsma flavoring the proceedings with bright vibraphone -- that the singing is far from a dominant presence. For avant jazz fans, the reedman offers a seriously outré bari solo during “The Adventures of Billy Spontana,” and some nearly comical guitar-sax note-sliding makes “Sirens All Around Us” the disc’s most apt title. But the biggest ear-opener could be the ten-plus-minute “For Jason, Mark and Joe,” featuring Kimman multi-tracked on banjo as well as guitar (not to mention vocals and some harmonium, recorders, and thumb piano in the intro). The ostinato-driven, high-energy portions build a real head of steam and suggest Discipline-era King Crimson edging toward bluegrass; maybe once Kimman’s fingers were flying on the fretboards, it was hard to apply the brakes. After all the nonetheless impressive stopping and starting scattered elsewhere, it’s one of Odds and Unevens' nice changes of pace.