Lean Left is the team-up between the two guitarists from The Ex with Paal Nilssen-Love and his regular sax-man, Ken Vandermark. We’ve heard them before on Live At Area Sismica from the Dutch Unsounds label in 2014, and they’re here now with a new live recording Medemer (PNL RECORDS PNL048) captured in Warsaw in Autumn of 2018. Bartosz Szkielkowski was there with his recording mikes, and fellow Norwegian Lasse Marhaug did the mixing and mastering job.
This CD weighs in at a hefty 72:39, and though there are index points on your CD it’s intended as a six-part continual listening experience, so those with an appetite for energetic free music on a gargantuan scale are advised to book your place at this 20-foot table and bring your own napkins. Both Terrie Ex and Andy Moor display impressive guitar discordancies here, particularly at the very start of the set, where much aggression, noise, harshness and two-way rhythmic action and crosstalk satisfy a man’s craving for that “post-punk angularity” which these Ex-Men have developed into their own well-articulated language. A part of me would be happy just leaving part 1 on repeat play. By part two, the set switches up into a more recognisably free-jazz mode as Vandermark hoves into sight with his forceful blasts, and the drummer pulls the levers on his wrecking ball combined with a steel bulldozer. By part 3 we’re pretty much in the heart of the tornado (with added tree-trunks a-flying) and the quartet deliver the expected roaring and storming mode, and the super-energised thrash and puff combined with incredibly urgent thumping percussion is an exhausting, over-crowded listen. But never let it be said our four heroes can’t do dynamics.
When they reach a lull of swampy proportions, such as the opening of part four, the guitarists provide a spooky cricket-chirp effect by scraping strings in very artistic fashion, allowing Ken V to meditate thoughtfully on a mournful clarinet. Nilssen-Love sensibly restricts himself to a bout of crisp tapping on the old wood-blocks, proving he doesn’t have to deliver every sentence in full caps and at peak volume. Some of these recent Paal Nilssen-Love projects wear me out with their insistence on hard slog, stamina and sweat-drenched activities, to the point that it’s like competing in a sports event, but I can see myself revisiting Medemer for future doses, largely on account of the two-guitar death-ray mangling on offer. From 10 June 2020.