I find we’ve been hearing the work of Philip Zoubek in drobs and drebs since at least 2012, most recently perhaps on the 2017 record Drought where this fine prepared piano and synth player appeared alongside Pierre-Yves Martel and Carl Ludwig Hübsch. If we can generalise – and it’s not advisable to attempt it – Zoubek is in pursuit of highly unusual sounds on his keyboards, doing so in a fairly extreme jazz-improvisation situation, and yet doesn’t want to alienate listeners completely as he fathoms the strange depths of many an abyss or lava-filled ocean. On Radium (CIRCUM-DISC LX015), he’s doing it alongside two very able and like-minded collaborators, the guitarist Ivann Cruz and the drummer Marcin Witkowski.
With a keyboard-guitar-drum confluence, you might assume we’re in for a post-Cartesian update on any given Thelonious Monk trio, but the music on Radium is very abstract and exploratory, in a good way, and whatever structure there may be certainly isn’t used in the service of song compositions. Now as to Ivann Cruz, he plays the electric guitar and uses electronics in his table of mayhem, and made quite a lasting impression on certain European states with his solo record Lignes De Fuite for this same label in 2017, with its alarming “red staircase” cover art (indicative of his take on mankind’s fate; I guess we’re all climbing the stairs hoping for heaven, but instead marching headlong into an infernal region). That item showed us how far he was prepared to go in denormalising the sound of his instrument and scrambling the brain cells of all who heard it, a practice which he continues with aplomb and enthusiasm on Radium. As evidence of that, the bonkers freakery of ‘Cobalt’ should be enough to make the case in his favour, but there’s plenty more exhibits to bring out.
Marcin Witkowski is a new name to us, but he may be in Polish band Program who have been playing their own brand of alternative rock music since the mid-1990s. As a trio, these three gazoons have been plotting the downfall of the enemy for about two years, cloaking their actions under the secret codewords “sonic explorations, ambient textures and unstable harmonies”, and in that time it’s fair to say they’ve evolved a very spiky, restless strain of what is loosely termed “electro-acoustic music” in the free improvisation mode. The conceptual plan is that they work together to build an imaginary “meta-instrument”, rather than take solos or allow the “normal” voices of their instruments to shine, subsuming their egos; and Radium shows how successfully they’ve got this process down to a real knitting-pattern which only they can follow. Even more perplexing is that this assured, confident stride into the dangerous zones of mixed harmonies and free-form scrapes is their first album, another piece of evidence in support of my theory that the best music often happens outside the recording studio.
The nine pieces here are named after various superstars from the table of the elements – Selenium, Thallium, Tungsten, Lithium, etc., and by the end of it you will feel you’ve been thoroughly dosed with agents which are normally toxic and harmful to the human frame, yet you feel 200% better as a result. Fine European noise, bold and exciting innovative work…arrived 2nd December 2019.