Old And New Sounds From Silver Spring
Larval : Obedience (Cuneiform Records Rune 178)
Nucleus ´Live in Bremen' ( Rune 173/174)

Releases from Cuneiform are always worth catching and these two from the latest batch are no exceptions, showing as they do some of the diversity of the label.

Sometimes you know what to expect from a band, even though you have never heard them. Larval have been associated with John Zorn's label and the Knitting Factory. They have been compared to King Crimson, at least in the ´Larks' Tongues' or ´Red' periods. So they are probably going to be loud. And that is pretty much what you get here. Heavy ostinato riffs are layered by the interlocking of guitars, bass, sax, cello and violin while the drums slug it out. These guys don't go in for solos very much, they favour the ensemble approach.

From the start they set up interwoven meshes of dark, relentless sound, though on ´Last Ditch' they also work in a passage of relative calm where violin and cello sway their minimal way around some understated sax. ´Something Terrible Is About To Happen' is a great title and appropriate for a piece that creates a sound of foreboding. A brooding thrash of guitar swells briefly, like a restrained version of Faust's ´Krautrock' then the violin/cello riffing takes over, gloomy and gothic. This is not music for a balmy stroll in the woods. Unless you hope to meet something unpleasant and hungry. Again, I could hear echoes of Fripp and his men circa ´The Talking Drum'. Zeena Parkins' harp lends a little pastoral ambience before the assault rebuilds itself.

The most restrained track is ´Her Last Good Day' with elegiac violin and sliding guitar. The sax is so low key it almost vanishes in the mix but now and then you notice its restrained texture in unison with the others. It's an hypnotic combination and provides some relief from the relentless attack of much of the cd.

Despite all that, this music is not as satisfyingly heavy as some other Cuneiform cds, such as Raoul Bjorkenheim's solo or the truly unstoppable Dr Nerve. And when compared to the King Crimson ensemble hammering their way through a ´live' version of ´VROOM, VROOM' for example, this sounds quite tame. But then the Crims have been doing this for a long time and have honed it to near perfection. I expect Larval will develop in other directions too, so I will await future releases with interest.
There has been a resurgence of interest in Nucleus, the jazzrockers, who as their leader/spokesman Ian Carr says were jazzrocking before ´Bitches Brew' was unleashed. To meet this renewed demand BGO, Hux and now Cuneiform have cranked up the supply. The latter two companies have released chunks of ´live' work which seems to be the best way to hear this band.

This set catches them in May 1971 with a couple of personnel changes from the original line-up. Guitarist, Ray Russell replaces Chris Spedding and as a result the guitar sound is rougher and hard edged on the band staple ´Song For The Bearded Lady'. Another staple, an extended ´Snakehips' Dream', has some raucous blowing as it opens the second set before it settles into a groove.

Some tracks are group compositions and I expected more free blowing. Well, they don't blow that hard but there is a pleasantly loose feel to ´By The Pool' with Brian Smith's flute ricocheting around while Russell's guitar scrapes and chops in a funky manner. Tracks like this offer a glimpse of the Nucleus jam as opposed to the highly arranged studio work. They also bear out Carr's assertion: 'I wanted it to be a co-operative group'. If one soloist were to be singled out though it would have to be Brian Smith whose flute and sax playing is ever inventive and fluent. He is never short of ideas. Check out his soprano on ´Oasis/Money Mad', for example.

Another lengthy group piece ´Kookie And The Zoom Club' has an opening riff that might have found its way onto a Soft Machine album along with Karl Jenkins but there is also some fine playing from Carr. His attack is clear and incisive, though parts of it are slightly off-mike. Once again Russell puts some of the rock into jazzrock with a buzzing, abrasive solo.

Overall there is more fire in the playing, both collectively and as individuals, perhaps showing a band on the road working out newer material and stretching some of the older pieces. This is what I think makes this material worth checking out, whether or not you heard them at the start or are new to it.

© 2003 Paul Donnelly