|Recorded “live” at London’s Steamroom studios in an afternoon session without any pre-written material, Steamroom Variations presents a vigorous document of improvisation at its most fervent. The album’s liner notes cite a bevy of influences, from artists like Albert Ayler, Anthony Braxton, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Robert Fripp, and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Disregarding the intricate structural theories and harmonic concepts supporting the work of the aforementioned artists, but instead honing in on their experiments with improvisation, Decision Dream has channeled its inspirations into a furnace of white-hot expressionism. This electronic power trio navigates the possibilities of 21st Century free jazz by embracing the technology of its time and reveling in the potential.
Electric guitarist Magnus Alexanderson, electric double bassist Jair-Rohm Parker Wells, and drummer Anthony Bianco recorded the album direct to a Mac running Pro Tools with all effects loops generated live and no overdubs added in editing. A generation ago one would have heard cries of blasphemy if someone so much as admitted to recording a jazz album using Pro Tools, let alone claiming to do so with no overdubs or edits. But in the end, the result is the same, whether digital or analog… this is live improvised music, what was played is exactly what the listener hears.
What separates this outing from similar endeavors is the trio’s dedication to sustained energy. While dynamic, sonic diversity can be seen as compositional foresight, here the trio maintains an extremely high level of intensity for the duration of the record. This does not preclude structural variety however, as there are moments of focused exploration that do not rely on endless waves of sonic mayhem; there is always an edgy rhythmic variation, stuttered phrase or keening loop present to keep the listener’s attention. Where many like-minded efforts have a tendency to fall into a quiet, impressionistic haze, the trio maintains its edge by never allowing the music to be anything less than ecstatic.
The album takes off for the stratosphere immediately with a three-part improvisation making up the bulk of the record, “Steamroom Variations 1-3”, and concludes with a short four and a half minute tune, “Life / less”, which condenses the longer form suite into a miniature variation, acting as a coda of sorts. The trio delivers a frenzy of activity for the majority of the program. Floating on a bed of shimmery loops, screaming feedback, and undulating bass, peppered with stinging fretboard acrobatics, all woven into a roiling undercurrent of frenzied trap set ruminations, the trio vacillates to and fro from apocalyptic abandon to post-Minimalist variations, without ever dropping the intensity level.
Decision Dream is an heir apparent to artists such as Sonic Youth, Nels Cline, Bill Laswell, Sonny Sharrock, and numerous other purveyors of free-wheeling electronic noise. The trio’s rapport is tight enough to suggest that these blokes have had plenty of experience playing together. They unleash a flurry of ideas over the course of an hour, sometimes so many that it can get a bit overwhelming, but never enough to obscure their efforts in a miasma of overblown distortion. Steamroom Variations is an impressive debut album, one likely to gain these newcomers some well deserved attention. ONE FINAL NOTE