The Crustacean Variation

Fine record of free-thinking forward-moving contemporary what-is-it jazz + improv glonkery from Mark Holub and crew on Anthropods (DISCUS MUSIC DISCUS 117CD)…

Holub is the American drummer who is notorious for creating quite a “hullabaloo” on his set, hence his name…he has been spotted in the UK at jazz club The Vortex often with Colin Webster crying into a bowl of brass beside him, but it seems our man Mark is holed up in Vienna just now, home of the funfairs and coloured giraffes. He’s been beating the cream in that locale for ten years now, but it turns out he got marooned there during the COVID times and, according to some versions of the story, all of music, touring, and life itself ended for him. Seizing the red-hot poker of opportunity, he managed to put together a band of European players active in that part of the world, and Anthropods is the result. The point about anthropods (creepy things like scorpions, crabs, trilobites) is that they have segmented bodies and jointed limbs, and it’s those features that Holub is trying to emulate with his group, in musical terms (hopefully, unless he’s aiming to re-enact the Human Centipede movie with them).

The talented zonksters here are Clemens Sainitzer on cello, Irene Kepl on violin, Jakob Gnigler on tenor saxm and Susanna Gartmayer on bass clarinet. Gartmayer we heard and enjoyed on her fab solo blaster AOUIE from around 2015, though she’s very familiar with group situations as well. Holub is no stranger to being composer and bandleader (you may have heard him in Led Bib, who made a number of jazzy records for Cuneiform and other labels), but here he reports that he wanted to try something different, a group where the players had an equal voice in determining the sound of the music, and he stopped himself from being “too prescriptive” about it. I think it’s paid off here with the two string players, who not only contrast nicely with the two woodwinds but also emerge as real highlights for me personally. Irene Kepl in particular is capable of pouring out a droplet or eight of strong emotional discharges, and I’m intrigued to find she’s done a record for Another Timbre (with George Cremaschi and Petr Vrba). Also nifty cello stabs from Sainitzer when he’s called upon to act as quasi-rhythm section with his loping trundles.

While the band do seem to pursue the upbeat and pro-active hopsters, such as ‘Forest Capers’ and ‘One Way’, there are some excursions into more introspective and cloudy vista-gazers, such as the very moving long piece ‘The Bells’, and ‘For Charles’, another long-former which contains plenty of ambiguous passages, riddles, and floating question marks over the heads of all concerned. Impressive how quickly this new combo have evolved into such an effective unit; no wonder Holub is exciting about touring and seeing how the Anthropods sound will develop. To use his own phrase, “allowing this band to create a sound which only this band could be.” From 21st January 2022.