Metal Rat Reviews
Metal Rat is a triumph from beginning to end. Along with pianist/leader Russ Lossing, violist Mat Maneri and bassist Mark Dresser have created a work of terrifying intensity and concentration of purpose that is engaging at many levels, simultaneously manifesting a steely ferocity that is nevertheless almost unbearably beautiful.
The ten tracks have but two actual compositions (”Turn” and “Is Thick With”), which are easy to distinguish as such. The other tracks are a mix of trio improvisations (”Coming to Meet,” “Ch'ien,” “Metal Rat” and “Fire Monkey”) and different duo groupings. Lossing states in the notes that he wanted to create a sense of urgency, and the recording session was over in less than four hours.
Maneri and Dresser are both well-known in free jazz circles, and they respond to Lossing with a complete sense of control: everyone is in that “no mind” state of listening and playing without hesitation, existing totally in the moment. The success of Metal Rat lies in the sense of total immersion that the players exude. Each track explores a different emotional world and is generally short, as one might expect from free improvisations. The exceptions are the title track and “Ch'ien,” which are arguably the standout performances.
At over fourteen minutes, “Ch'ien” (reversed in position with “Turn”) is an excellent example of how adept improvisors who are truly free can produce an extended work that holds together, in both the free sections and the ones with a pulse. The feeling they produce is oceanic, carrying on momentum with waves that continuously move forward. The feeling of relentless logic in the music comes from the close playing of the trio.
Those who know Lossing's work will welcome this intense recording, while those who are new to either Lossing or free jazz can be assured that Metal Rat is a superb example of the genre.
The first thing that might come to mind upon seeing the instrumentation – pianist Russ Lossing, violinist/violist Mat Maneri, and bassist Mark Dresser – on Metal Rat (Clean Feed 064) is Matthew Shipp’s String Trio, a combo in which Maneri’s unique improvisational voice played a central role. Yet pianist Lossing is as different from Shipp as Dresser is from William Parker. He’s far more influenced by impressionistic players like Blake or Bley than by firebrands and cluster-pounders. The disc’s format is somewhat standard format, broken into trios, duos, and solos over the course of about 50 minutes. Generally the level of invention and interaction is very high, and the pieces range from somber ballads like “Turn” (which brings out the greatest creativity amongst these players, with Dresser’s rubbery lines seeming to coax micro-grains from Maneri and Feldman-like obliqueness from Lossing), concise chamber interplay on the title track (graced by some judicious percussive thwacks and spooky echoes), or fractious free noise on “Coming to Meet” (all jangling icicles). In general I prefer the trios, though some of the duos are quite rich (for example, the incisive strings duet “Damp(ness)” and “Dry(ist),” for cascading piano and viola). Fine stuff.
A focused session of collective free improvisation conceived by pianist Russ Lossing, Metal Rat features the spontaneous interplay of three sympathetic musicians. Joined by violist Mat Maneri and bassist Mark Dresser, Lossing booked a recording studio for a mere four hours to instill a “real sense of urgency” to the proceedings. The ensuing session benefits from this pre-imposed constraint by lending an air of palpable tension to the work. Full of simmering intensity and dramatic flair, this is dark, intuitive chamber jazz at its finest.
The album is composed of four trio excursions, four duets and two distinctive originals written by Lossing, the blistering “Turn” and the introspective “Is Thick With.” The majority of the pieces are brief sketches, from two to four minutes in duration, with “Ch’ien” the only exception. At fourteen minutes, it is the album’s tour-de-force, an epic suite of turbulent emotional transformation, circumnavigating jittery agitation, hopeful optimism and bittersweet resignation.
Throughout the record, Lossing reveals a shadowy, modernist sensibility; melancholy pointillism, spectral glisses, pulverizing clusters, and searing embers erupt from his keys. Maneri’s microtonal viola technique is singularly expressive, a hollow, crying tone that glides from mournful to caustic. Dresser’s resonant bass playing is typically magnificent; his sinewy arco work is especially plangent.
The trio stretches formal concepts of accompaniment, call-and-response and counterpoint with clairvoyant elasticity. No one player dominates as each responds in turn with confirmation or confrontation. Their intuitive declarations spur on new avenues for exploration. The session unfolds gradually with chamber-like restraint, punctuated by sudden interjections of taut dissonance.
Employing a monochromatic palette of deep chiaroscuro, the album alternates between unsettling agitation and somber melancholy. Metal Rat is a subtle, rewarding document of free improvisation from three acknowledged masters of the form.
Russ Lossing's previous outing with a trio "All Things Arise" [hathut] was a fine example of a pianist who was willing to stretch out. While moving into the third-stream mentality, Lossing never lost touch with the melodic aspect in his playing. This time around, when he's matched with viola player Mat Maneri and bassist Mark Dresser, the adventurous side in his music resonates even more. Four of the longest pieces on the record are improvisations. Lossing says in the liner notes, "When I put this date together my general idea was to create an atmosphere of °no mind'. No past, no future. One of the elements to bring forth this feeling was to book a very short session; we were in the studio less than four hours including set up and break down. There was a real sense of urgency to the session." You can hear that sense of danger in just about everything the trio plays. Improvised trio numbers are the most adventurous. The longest of these, "Ch'ien" is a superb example of the trio's full-blown capabilities. Lossing leads the way with scattered clusters on the keys, while Dresser provides intensely warm plucking that gels with Maneri's metallic viola playing. As the piece continues, it passes through a number of ebbs and flows. Melody is replaced with dissonance, which then turns on itself and becomes a quiet melodic passage once again. Much of this music is highly reflective. On the title track, Lossing plays with what he calls °open piano'. He's basically hunkering down on the sustain pedal, while he's plucking away on the strings. The metallic sound once again comes through as Maneri takes the leader to task in a head-to-head duo. Album also features a number of duets between the members of trio. "Hidden Lines" sees Lossing duel out with Dresser's rich, warm arco bass lines, while "Dry(ist)" sees Lossing's loosely structured piano chords go at it with Maneri's finely angular viola structures. "Metal Rat" is full of what's most important to a successful trio record ° open communication in bounds.
- Tom Sekowski
It is difficult to accept that music so deeply affecting has been recorded in a single session, which lasted less than four hours (I chuckle when I think of U2 taking years to release two arpeggios and three chords - but let's not digress). In fact, the responsiveness between the players that characterizes "Metal rat" is on such a high level that it just sounds like it was pre-conceived or at least discussed in advance. No dominant voice here: Lossing plays in delicate, ever-conscious spurts that let us breath the rarefied air of instantaneous cleverness. Maneri's unique microtonal phrasing makes a virtue of uncertainty, suspending every judgement or consideration about the path to follow until a moment later - but that moment is likely to bring more doubts, if not sheer sorrow. Dresser is one of the most discerning bass players in the world with a reason, his tone infusing the pieces with a touch of needed security while at the same moment seducing Lossing and Maneri's voices with sympathetic veils of resonance. The music we receive is like an unexpected present, a virtual box containing the very things we needed in that particular moment. The language used by these artists belongs to the high spheres of improvisation, a combination of sadness, hopeful determination and clairvoyance which defines greatness, separating regular releases from rare jewels, of which "Metal rat" is certainly one.