Abstruction – 3ofmillions
Released by Rufus Records (RF094)
CD Review by Des Cowley
The title of 3ofmillions second full-length release variously suggests abstraction, construction, destruction and obstruction. While the first term is the more immediately obvious, borne out by the striking hard-edge cover design, and the ambient and abstract music contained within, the latter terms are nonetheless provocatively suggestive, as if to infer there’s more here than meets the eye or the ear.
3ofmillions comprises Adrian Lim-Klumpes on piano; Abel Cross on bass, and Finn Ryan on drums and percussion. With a combined resume that includes bands such as Triosk, Pivot, Trio Apoplectic, Pure Evil Trio, and the Splinter Orchestra, it’s a given that 3ofmillions is not going to be your average piano trio.
The band uses technology to manipulate the sounds of their instruments, further adding layers of electronics and voice to the mix. And While Klumpes, Cross and Finn draw freely on the language of jazz, post-rock, noise, ambient and minimalist music, 3ofmillions is above all a self-proclaimed band of unrepentant improvisers, intent on creating acoustic and electronic music in a live context. Their closest local counterparts are perhaps the Necks, and Phil Slater’s various electro-acoustic ensembles.
Pianist Adrian Lim-Klumpes is probably the best known musician of the trio, due to his previous role in Triosk, a piano trio he formed in 2001 with Ben Waples and Laurence Pike. I remember catching one of the band’s final performances at the Wangaratta Jazz Festival in 2007, and being stunned by the sheer visceral energy on display. While the performance bore comparison with the electro-energy of Swedish piano trio E.S.T., it also possessed something of the madcap mayhem of a fluxus happening. More than anything, the hour-long improvisation brought to mind early live recordings by the Ganelin Trio. It was roiling music full of abrupt jump cuts and wild unpredictability, unleashed with a sonic force that made the heart race. It remains baffling to me that a band as innovative and exciting as Triosk was not more acclaimed in this country when they were around.
While the music of 3ofmillions bears similarities with that of Triosk, there are notable differences. Certainly, the musical palette heard on Abstruction is more contained; there is a greater focus on the spatial quality of the music. Rather than abrupt surges of sound, there is instead a concentrated attention given to ambient sounds and textures.
For the recording of Abstruction, the trio appears to have been directly inspired by their surroundings. The album was recorded in late 2009 during the band’s week-long artists-in-residency at Bundanon, the previous home of Arthur and Yvonne Boyd, situated on the Shoalhaven River. Working in a space designed by architect Glenn Murcutt, the musicians have acknowledged there is something architectural about the music they created there. At the same time, there is equally something sculptural about the way they move around blocks of sound to create abstract colours and shapes.
While Abstruction is divided into eight tracks, it has something of the feel of a suite, or continuous loop, about it. The soft, repetitive bell of a piano introduces the opening track, ‘Abstruction’. The music grows in volume, gently cascading and flowing, before being drowned out by a flurry of percussion, the drone of an engine. ‘Versus Nature’ plays out over a sonic hum that fades in and out, gradually swelling in intensity. ‘Conversation’ is like a minimalist drama, all stops and starts, gentle and strident. ‘Furniture’ is two minutes and forty-six seconds of near-silence interrupted by electronic blips and scratching sounds.
The album’s longest track, ‘Nebuchadnezzar’, presumably titled after Arthur Boyd’s great cycle of paintings, clocks in at eleven minutes. It has a film-score feel to it, trading off lush piano motifs against a backdrop of rumbling and threatening bass lines. The piece builds slowly, with percussion, electronics and voices gradually being added to the mix, generating vast sheets of sound. The effect is both trance-inducing and otherworldly. ‘What are You Gunna Do?’ could be bell-chimes ringing in a forest, a distant motor revving, before falling into silence. The album’s final track, ‘Bacquiescence’, is ten minutes of electronic pulse and radio waves, easing in and out, like the rhythm of waves, or the beat of a heart.
Abstruction is an uncompromising album, demanding from the listener a certain willingness to engage with its architectural design. Working from scratch, its improvisations explore the tonalities of light and shade. That the final results have about them the character of composed works speaks volumes about the heightened intuitive interplay these musicians attained during the recording sessions. At times, it feels as if this music comes out of silence, and in the end returns there.
The album provides ample evidence, should it be needed, that 3ofmillions rank amongst Australia’s finest improvising musicians, committed to developing their own complex language and vocabulary. Their music is created out of a genre-hopping three-way conversation that freely plunders electro and ambient music, minimalism, musique concrete, and industrial rock, without necessarily sounding like any one of them. If Abstruction inevitably ends up being filed under ‘jazz’, it’s not because this music has no other refuge. Instead it’s because the future of jazz is being written in the here and now by bands such as 3ofmillions.