The Remote Viewers,
Low Shapes in Dark Heat
(Leo Lab, 1998)

The sax section from New York art-rock-punk-jazz-call-it-what-you-like group B Shops for the Poor has spawned an offshoot, which essentially sounds much like the B Shops themselves. They favour blocks of sound, often avoiding vibrato and other markers of "jazz" expressivity in favour of squalls of noise, synth textures and Louise Petts' voice.

There are only a couple of vocal tracks here, including a lovely, utterly stoned version of Sun Ra's "Astro Black." Petts has a voice that is unaffected and rather anonymous, which is a compliment in this setting where personalities tend to be subsumed to the ensemble sound. The synthesisers use warm, analogue-style patches redolent of '70s space fusion, but the crisp horn sections could only really be contemporary, bringing polytonal blocks of sound into collision in a manner reminiscent of late Stravinsky.

The first track title, indeed, gives a hint of their intention. "What the Building Wants to Be" is, presumably, pure architectural structure, unfettered by the demands of materials, function and safety regulations. This feels like a good indication of what many of these tracks are trying to acheive: a kind of formal abstraction which is very different from what anyone might call "jazz."

There are solos here -- Adrian Northover (soprano and alto sax), for instance, has a very likeable habit of jabbing at his notes like a chicken pecking gravel -- but they are subsumed to the needs of the music, and everyone seems to agree that the compositions come first. The result is sour and lumpy, but not as unpalatable as one might suspect, and any awkwardness that these strangely angular pieces might have had is brushed aside by the sheer quality of the performances.

[ by Richard Cochrane ]
Rambles: 11 May 2002