Before getting into this review, I want my readers to know that I will never put some form of grade system on it, whether they’re an ostensible joke or not. So, in the case of Foxy Digitalis or Pitchfork, you will never see a grade scale of 1-10 lightning bolts or flaccid cocks or whatever else. There are so many regrets I have about those limp little bolts, but chief of those is that they didn’t lobotomize Brad or Eden. Quick work that would have been, anyway. Funny how the flavor of the month can seem so dominating one minute and then discontinued due to lack of interest the next.
Who Cares How Long You Sink is, or was at that period of time, an exceptional ensemble who achieved exactly what it was they were trying to do. Kudos to them, and my apologies to Jason Ajemian for not following through with that interview. It happens, or rather life does, and often when you don’t have a deadline looming that means a paycheck, sometimes you regrettably have to prioritize. Of the notable interviews and projects that went by the wayside were a collaboration with Kan Mikami (that would be music, not writing, Klimperei, a bona fide sui generis genius and Brother JT, who had the bad timing of having to deal with me during my still-pending divorce to a woman I still love) – Enough of that. Let’s get on with it, shall we?
Who Cares How Long You Sink – Folk Forms Evaporate Big Sky
Who Cares How Long You Sink is one of Chicago bassist and composer Jason Ajemian’s many avant-jazz related projects, and one not to be missed. WCHLYS is a large ensemble of horns, reeds, percussion and strings devoted to, if not timelessness, then the organic time of flux, which aims to summon and invoke the harmonic possibilities and poetic essence of the cloud, of celestial bodies, of daydreams. It is, quite easily, one of the best records I?ve heard this year, and certainly the most exhilarating, refreshing and delightfully shocking.
Their second CD, Folk Forms Evaporate Big Sky, employs 31 musicians playing a score which emphasizes natural breathing rhythms over structured time, choices over the set path. Notes and phrases are based on the players’ own inhalation/exhalation cycles. What results is a sort of interlocking and overlapping spacetime fuckery which faintly resembles a symphony tuning up in the distance, but much, much more, namely uncanny thematic deconstructions and reconstructions that have the characteristics of a hazy deja vu, and, as a consequence, some radical new musical expression.
There are intimations of forms as the title suggests, but due to the hallucinatory drift created by the collision of personal time signatures, they do exactly as the title intimates, rising like vapor off of a hellish desert highway into surreal skies impossible to define by physical law. This music truly engages a calculus of internal explosions which gleefully blows your head off. What appears to be linear becomes a-linear. What appears be circular and discordant becomes vividly melodic, then soon dissipates?or reforms, gets combobulated [sic], only to restart its strange cycle again from multiple starting points.
One thing that makes it work so well is a sense that the musicians are careful to exercise restraint, contrasting abrupt seizures of sound which puncture the minimal motifs, providing that startling jolt which makes this a stand-out. The vox also tears through; I assume it’s Ajemian’s words and voice, rising up wistfully from the gorgeous, sweet morass and mingling with the mimosa and other exotic fragrances of high register and sublime harmonics, only to plummet back into the swirl and disappear. The vocal quality is at times reminiscent of Robert Ashley, citing something vulnerable and calling something wild. And the words, to match, are a stream-of-conscious mix of earthly desire and stratospheric bliss:
Just a dream/She’s just a dream/With eyes I can hold
What all-How much it/Keeps you same, creaking limbs, lubed/
Out of motion action slowed/Focus lost in attention
I’d be remiss, also, if I didn’t mention the role chance plays in these five short compositions. There are accidental harmonies set against rolling clashes, providing organic and insouciant tension; even so, it?s a tension built for ecstasy. Like the vocals, these chance encounters of tone and timbre play brilliantly across the sonic spectrum, encompassing a wealth of emotion and spawn considerable envy at the method of execution.
Folk Forms Evaporate Big Sky is what music is for?to define, undefine and redefine, to forget and remember, to struggle and release?and most importantly, to be inventively and innovatively musical. 10/10 — P. Somniferum (14 August, 2007)
- Alto Saxophone – Aram Shelton
- Bass – Jason Ajemian
- Clarinet – Stewart Bogie
- Composed By – Jason Ajemian
- Guitar – Jeff Parker
- Marimba – Dan Sylvester, Tim Daisy
- Mastered By – Ernst Karel
- Oboe – Kyle Bruckmann
- Recorded By – Devin Davis
- Tenor Saxophone – Matt Bauder
- Trumpet – Ernst Karel
Jason Ajemian has acquired a high profile in the improvised music scene over the years, performing with Marc Ribot’s SunShip, Matana Robert’s CoinCoin, Rob Mazurek’s Mandarin Movie, Exploding Star Orchestra, and Chicago Underground Trio, Ken Vandermark’s Crisis Ensemble, and his 5 year weekly engagement with Jeff Parker & Nori Tanaka @ the Rodan in Chicago. Ajemian’s curiosity has ranged far and wide – he’s just as comfortable in the hushed, folksy setting of Born Heller, his duo with Josephine Foster, as he is in the breath-processed arrangements of his large ensemble Who Cares How Long You Sink. Given such a variety of musical interest, a detour like “From Beyond,” Ajemian’s backwards version of Black Sabbath’s ‘Into the Void’ for chamber ensemble, begins to seem like an obvious stop on this bassist’s journey from the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains to Chicago and his current home in New York City.
– Jacob Kart