Toting Bass Clarinet, Drums, and Guitar, Mere showcase a mastery of space on II. Their album begins in a completely open environment with sparse pieces of sound bouncing around each member of the ensemble. Eventually, huge, raw grooves come into play with subtle changes driving the music forward for large swaths of all-encompassing material. Even when the group is at the very beginning of a track, setting the foundation for large ideas in the future, there’s an immediate presence in their sound. This presence guides them through a 20-minute track that takes things down to near silence before ever-so-carefully building up back into their wall of sound to end things off. There’s a meditative quality to this work that keeps the listener enthralled from beginning to end.
After interacting in space to kick off the record, the trio sort of builds a pulse. Not necessarily moving within a regular meter the pulse is crafted with each player gravitating in and out with tiny crescendos and decrescendos. Of course the track does grasp onto a steady 4/4 rhythm later on, but this idea of pulse is key to blending the two extremes together. As far as the groove goes, it’s nice to see a sensible juxtaposition between Gareth Davis’s unrefined, raw clarinet lines against the somewhat stagnant offerings from Thomas Cruijsen and Leo Fabriek. Granted, the guitar and drum are far from slick, but having the wild clarinet going on really brings out the human element of the group.
The second track, “V,” is the most condensed track on the record. The raucous groove is immediate and still finds a way to fly off the rails; it’s smart to get a break from the more barren landscapes by offering something unrelenting between them. Perhaps this track exposes a bit of weakness melodically, as the clarinet doesn’t work a whole lot with motivic development. Davis works with small ideas in reaction to what’s going on around him rather than crafting his own musical storyline. On their next effort, it might be good to think about how the melody is developing along with the groove.
“VI” finishes things off with a huge track that completely earns its length. At the start, a contender for the messiest groove on record comes through with everyone testing the metric constraints. Slowly the clarinet shapes some beautiful melodies over the top and the track comes to a standstill before building everything up again. All of the changes to the soundscape are incredibly subtle, but again the group encapsulates the audience throughout—it’s truly an exciting 20-minutes.
We also see a nice change in hierarchy of the ensemble on this track. Particularly in the beginning, it feels like the guitar sort of serves a rhythmic role and the drums come to the foreground with solo-worthy material. Even the clarinet takes a bit of a subordinate role with droning long tones far off in the background. This adds to the dynamic quality of the work as there’s much more than a single set-up in which the group operates.
Sonically, the album feels fresh. Tapping into the constellation records ambiance, with an improviser’s flavor, Mere take an eclectic collection of ideologies to new heights. In the future, it would be nice to see a bit more melodic and motivic development, but the dynamic quality of this work certainly provides for a fascinating listen.