Listening to PAK, composer Ron Anderson’s vehicle driving through ears a frenetic pastiche of jazz, funk and math-rock, can be transcendent. Writing about them, though, is a whole other matter. It’s a little like unraveling a knot, and a complicated one at that.
In 2011, when Anderson and company released PAK’s Secret Curve on Tzadik, I used phrases like “madman” and “masterpiece” to describe the record’s grandiose gestures and sweeping sounds – and rightfully goddamn so. The record, which if you don’t have you should have, was an opus in every way, a magical tryst between swing and post-rock, a carefully composed cut up of Zornish proportions, mythos on par with Monk. Three years and change have passed and we now find ourselves with an odd man out, an unexpected visit from the stork, the tour-only release NYJPN.
The new record, which is available in limited doses and was trodded out when the NYC-based Anderson toured – wait for it … wait for it – Japan last year, is more stripped down than Curve, less epic, but not less engaging and no less addictive or blood-boiling. No worries: you will find your fixes here just as on every Anderson offering.
Instead of fleshing out his time-shifting compositions on NYJPN with strings or piano or electronic effects or other ballyhoo, a la Secret Curve, though, Anderson and this-time-around contributors Tatsuya Yoshida (of RonRuins) and Nonoko Yoshida keep it straight-forward: bass, drums, sax. Fair enough. But you’d never imagine the textures and tones such a three piece could produce.
There are improvs that teeter, okay okay, on noisy experimentalism (“Breakaway”) and funkier numbers that hint at the rock phrasings of PAK’s earlier, more Minutemen-influenced oeuvre (opener “Fail Better”). But the brunt of the disc is composed of jagged-edge jazz, played in complicated times, with blasts of sax reminiscent of John Zorn. (It’s no coincidence that Anderson has danced, figuratively, of course, in Zorn’s NYC musical circles.)
Album winners? The ascents and trills of “L’enfer Du Nord,” a semi-tipsy take on Curve’s “Mama’s Little Anarchist,” the sprawling closer “Super Combatif,” and the Ornette Coleman by-way-of proto-punk bass of “Attack, Attack.”
This is an incredible place-holder if nothing else, and a great teaser for forthcoming recordings, if that’s indeed the ploy at hand. Anderson has a busy 2015 ahead of him – next up is a release by his Oblique Quartet – and NYJPN helps set the pace very well, indeed.