Listening to PAK, composer Ron Andersonâ€™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. Itâ€™s a little like unraveling a knot, and a complicated one at that.
In 2011, when Anderson and company released PAKâ€™s Secret Curve on Tzadik, I used phrases like â€œmadmanâ€ and â€œmasterpieceâ€ to describe the recordâ€™s grandiose gestures and sweeping sounds â€“ and rightfully goddamn so. The record, which if you donâ€™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 â€“ wait for it â€¦ wait for it â€“ 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 youâ€™d never imagine the textures and tones such a three piece could produce.
There are improvs that teeter, okay okay, on noisy experimentalism (â€œBreakawayâ€) and funkier numbers that hint at the rock phrasings of PAKâ€™s earlier, more Minutemen-influenced oeuvre (opener â€œFail Betterâ€). But the brunt of the disc is composed of jagged-edge jazz, played in complicated times, with blasts of sax reminiscent of John Zorn. (Itâ€™s no coincidence that Anderson has danced, figuratively, of course, in Zornâ€™s NYC musical circles.)
Album winners? The ascents and trills of â€œLâ€™enfer Du Nord,â€ a semi-tipsy take on Curveâ€™s â€œMamaâ€™s Little Anarchist,â€ the sprawling closer â€œSuper Combatif,â€ and the Ornette Coleman by-way-of proto-punk bass of â€œAttack, Attack.â€
This is an incredible place-holder if nothing else, and a great teaser for forthcoming recordings, if thatâ€™s indeed the ploy at hand. Anderson has a busy 2015 ahead of him â€“ next up is a release by his Oblique Quartet â€“ and NYJPN helps set the pace very well, indeed.