Unit Records UTR 4142

Birgit Ulher, trumpet; Ernst Thoma, live electronics and the blue wheel instant composing machine

Slants is a mellow, wheeling work that finds a single trumpet interacting with electronic music. Steering away from the more obvious use of looped beats or dance feels, this music takes you on a dark journey into electronic Avant-Garde. The artists make use of an instrument called "the blue wheel instant composing machine," invented by Thoma himself. As I understand it, it uses a complex set of parameters to spontaneously create electronic music. A very interesting idea because in this sense, we find Ulher's trumpet and Thoma's own electronic additions essentially interacting with a computer to create music. A concept that, with refinement, could prove to be an incredibly forward thinking step in the use of electronic music in Jazz. However, for me it did not work on this album. Ulher's trumpet sputters through the speakers in hoarse staccato blasts and occasional thick vibrato that could easily be taken for barnyard animals. Thoma's electronics and his Blue Wheel machine add in wandering clicks, pops and grinding white noise along with sustained, seemingly random pitches that are quick to remind me of sound effects of Sci-Fi movies. Seven tracks each named for very distinct and sometimes vibrant colors (such as "Pongopink") are all treated in an undistinguishable manner and at times I found myself trying to find where one track ended and the next began. The final cut is a twenty-seven minute foray into territory that feels the same as the previous tracks. Twenty-seven minutes is a length of time during which the likes of John Coltrane or rock and roll legends such as The Allman Brothers Band had trouble maintaining interest, and a length that thousands of the uninitiated condemn the band Phish for being so self-indulgent to stretch rock songs into. I once attended a lecture where Pat Metheny made the statement that it is usually much more fun to play Free Jazz than it is to listen to it. There are exceptions, but in this case I suspect that statement may ring true. Despite the noble intentions of the artists, to my ears this is noise. An incredibly difficult listen.

by Brian Hull