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Music Review: Poolplayers – Way Below the Surface

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I got into an argument with a friend of mine once about the route I liked to take when driving to upstate New York. He took the highway, the "getting there fast" being far more important than anything else. Me, I avoid highways as much as possible. After spending 20-plus years slogging through dense traffic to and from work, there is no way that I'm going to intentionally spend time on that tar torture strip of sameness.

Maybe it's the writer in me who worries about what might be missed along the way — the motel with attached plumbing business, the guns & guitars shop (complete with neon "Marshall" and "Remington" signs at opposite ends of the building), the building shaped and painted like a wheel of Swiss cheese. These sorts of oddities get dropped into the "idea basket" in my head. Hey, you just never know when they might come in handy.

All of this reminds me of sites such as Overheard in New York and Found Magazine, where bits of discarded objects and conversations provide the same sort of thought fodder as a drive past that farm stand/used jukebox company.

Poolplayers' Way Below The Surface seems at times almost like an accidental reconstruction of separately created musical thoughts. Don't take this to mean 'disjointed.' Their collective improvisations sounds anything but random. Have I contradicted myself? Accidental reconstruction… yet not random? Well, the themes of "overheard" and "found" have made their way into my thought process, so it's easy to imagine a pianist walking down the street, the melodic skeleton of "Beneath the Undercurrent" forming in his head. He passes a parked car and thoughts are interrupted by a snippet of techno filtering through the darkened glass. Ten stories above street level, an elongated trumpet tone can be heard.

While the end of that last paragraph has the makings of a pretty bad jazz-noir novel, there is a lot of truth in it. Much of the music on Way Below The Surface centers around the trumpet, piano, and drums of Arve Henriksen, Benoît Delbecq, and Lars Juul. A short piano figure is introduced, followed by a trumpet response. The percussion can either provide structure or skitter off into the distance. The otherworldly aspects of the improvisations are amplified by Henriksen's occasional wordless vocal passages, and Steve Argüelles' electronic twists and live samples. Each piece unfolds as a series of reactions, left to ring out before being followed. This extra space gives the passages extra weight and texture.

If your ears are curious for a taste of group improvisation (but your brain is afraid of full-on skronk), then this music might be just for you. The incurious never do discover what they're missing, leaving all of this beauty to be consumed by the open-hearted. Good for us.

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About Mark Saleski