Songs Our Mother Taught Us

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The work of upstate New York noise-jazz trio Borbetomagus is frequently described in terms of overwhelming power and aggression. In a live context, that's absolutely the dominant impression one is likely to get. On record, though, it's possible to have some control over the volume, and thus to listen closely and carefully and discern real technique at work, not to mention a subtlety that's not really surprising, given that saxophonists Jim Sauter and Don Dietrich, and guitarist Donald Miller, have been at this game for three decades. They're not neophytes still impressed by their own ability to make a loud noise; they're sound artists whose collective improvisations have a unique beauty. The three performances from London and Glasgow captured on this disc have no real reference points in even the free-est of jazz; rather, they sound like some huge machine sanding away at itself in an attempt to break free and lumber down the highway toward an uncertain destiny. The three men play through so many pedals and distortion devices that it's entirely impossible to discern which saxophonist is making which noise, and sometimes impossible to tell whether it's a saxophone or a guitar one is hearing. But even as each man blows or strums or otherwise plays his guts out, seemingly entranced, space always remains for the other two to be clearly heard, commenting and amplifying (in every sense of that word) and turning what could be a storm into a genuine three-way creative interaction. Borbetomagus are unique in the world, and this is as good a document of what they do as anything else in their catalog.

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