Blood Quartet-Deep Red: Album Review

With former Mars bassist Mark Cunningham taking up a quasi-front-man role on the trumpet, Blood Quartet certainly shoot for the essence of the No Wave movement.  Driving punk grooves, noisy freak outs and spacey jam sessions dominate the band’s work, shedding light on the multifaceted raw energy of underground spaces.  Obviously, the band has a bit of an advantage with their set-up.  Not a whole lot of groups out there take Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and The Stooges’ Funhouse as their main influences, but Blood Quartet is more than a gimmick.  Throughout the 10 tracks, the album remains capturing and showcases a talented slew of collective improvisation capable of intriguing fans of both free-jazz and punk rock.

Both “Bloodlines” and “String Theory”—the first two tracks—favor a stagnant groove.  A dramatic bass loop enters first with drums, guitar, and trumpet all circulating the beat with improvised phrasing.  “String Theory” then quickens the tempo a bit with guitar and drums having a bit more of a specified part as reverb-drenched trumpet ideas fill space off in the distance.  Guitarist Lluis Rueda spends the entire track on edge with erratic chords exploding as the energy reaches its peak.  The album does well to leave the listener wanting more.  Although these first two tracks expose the group’s fire power, the band still holds back a little bit.  Then as the album pushes forward, anticipation becomes the main focus with spacey ploys warding off full on explosions for a later time.

“Only Lovers” comes first, slowing things down and mostly eliminating drums from the equation.  Cunningham’s trumpet is replaced with drummer Candid Coll’s eerie, intimate vocal styling as the droning guitar and bass maintain the haunting atmosphere with sparse melodic ideas.  Next comes a rather open jam session on “Dark Energy 74” before trumpet reclaims the position of centerpiece on the still open ended “Dragon Tree.”  Cunningham isn’t necessarily a flashy, vituosic player, but his ability to give the ensemble a direction is clear on this track.  Especially towards the end, it feels a bit like each of his ideas determine the next move of the other instrumentalists.  Quick scale motions into the upper register are followed by rapid fire drum punches and clouds of guitar distortion.  It’s interesting to hear this when the record is sounding particularly “free.”  More typical free jazz set-ups tend to value constant rearrangements of the hierarchy, but it seems that the group’s punk rock origins give them a natural tendency to find a rock set-up.  It’s nice to hear a clear sense of direction in the album on occasion.

“Blood House” heralds in a slight shift in direction.  The sludgy combination of Kike Bela’s bass and Coll’s tom drum find a pressing groove with a clear sense of meter.  Still aiming to create a feeling of anticipation, Rueda and Cunningham leave a great deal of space between their short phrases.  Next, the group hearkens back to the first pair of tracks with the slow “Soma” and the rambunctious “Fly Your Eyes.”  “Rare Doom 11” gives a little bit of relief before the fastest track “Gravity Pull” finishes the listener off.  As the first two tracks promised the record ends out with all of the group’s cards on the table in the form of quick, raw explosions.

Obviously Deep Red doesn’t necessarily have any standout tracks.  The group seems to plan out a sketch of direction with a few chords and a melodic idea and let their improvisation take over from there.  Also, the real impact in the band’s talents lies in their ability to play with space before revealing their most intense, explosive material, which requires a front to back listen.  However, between the expert collective improvisations and more front-man directed song structures, it’s clear that the musicians in Blood Quartet are more than just an aesthetic experiment, making for a solid work with a totally unique sound.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10

Great album.  Great band.

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