- by Ian Fraser Rating:7 Release Date:2016-11-11 Label: Rocket Recordings
Kuro is, on paper at least, an unlikely pairing of Bristol-based classically trained French violinist Agathe Max and Gareth Turner, sinewy bass man of avant-psych noisenicks Big Naturals and Anthroprophh.
It’s not as bizarre an alliance as you might think. Turner who has a long association with Rocket (he was there from the beginning, playing on The Heads/Lillydamwhite split that constituted LAUNCH 001) is a considerable self-taught talent and the perfect foil for Max’s more tutored and no less exceptional, or experimental, virtuosity. So impressed was Max following a post-gig jam and a couple of further improvised sessions that she relocated to the musically rich West Country “capital" to enable this collaboration.
“Kuro” is Japanese for black and this sure is dark, sombre and introspective listening. Alternately restrained and demonstrative, it’s often precarious balanced between the infernal and the heavenly, where culture competes with Cthulhu, an eight-stringed beast that takes many forms, some of them frightening but for the most part consisting of patiently executed, textured drones (I give you exhibit 1, ‘Arashi’). It’s difficult to fit a rice paper between them quality wise and it would take better ears and descriptive powers to properly describe the subtle minutiae that separates them musically but in general terms it smacks of a rather sombre yet inspired Third Ear Band coalescing with the more restrained and spiritual output of Mahavishnu Mk 2 (which featured another French adept, Jean Luc Ponty).
‘The Hierophant’ with its evocative sweeps and sawing bass lines and ‘Ishtar’ are probably the most coherent and accessible of the six tracks here. The latter especially is melodic yet with an excitable undercurrent, with Turner furiously underpinning Max’s dextrous and at times majestic top lines, and which builds thrillingly to a cataclysmic crescendo before eventually rising in stately fashion from the rubble of its own making.
‘Improvisation in C’ is mostly comprised of one long dramatic allegro, a permanent state of heightened tension oddly reminiscent of the countless protracted efforts of Crazy Horse or The Allmans trying to end a song live. A rumbling deep bass register is the opening gambit for ‘Shanhai’d’ before Max joins in, quietly at first, her Eastern lines (more Indian than Chinese) becoming ever more pronounced. The eerie ‘Song For The Mysticeti’ meanwhile is the sound of someone being cryogenically frozen in deep space and is a fitting finale to a brave and ambitious concept and one that if you give it chance to work its peculiar and subtle magic. Beauty, after all, is in the ear of the beholder and this makes for a curiously strange attraction.