It bears repeating that free-improvisation — as diverse an artistic practice as it is — has its own rather complete history and tradition. One can come up in the ranks playing exclusively “free;” in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, it was rarer to be a musician steeped in the avant-garde without having some sort of jazz, blues, or even classical background. Now, it is possible for a young musician to start “out” and continue wholly along that path. For example, one could take the young alto saxophonist Chris Pitsiokos, whose recent presence in the New York free music scene has been impressive. His influences include saxophonists John Zorn, Jack Wright, and Evan Parker rather than Charlie Parker, Lee Konitz, or Ornette Coleman. His searing grotesqueries and mouthy rhythmic splatter can certainly be traced to the gritty violence of Downtown New York, which by the early 1980s sported a fascinating community of DIY mavens merging free-improvisation, punk rock, and modern composition without regard for whether their music fit into preconceived categories. It is this milieu that has inspired certain young players to express themselves purely and without regard to where their work is notched on the totem pole of aesthetics.
Released on his own Eleatic Records, Maximalism is Pitsiokos’ second disc as a leader, following a duo set (Unplanned Obsolescence) with drummer Weasel Walter waxed on the drummer’s ugEXPLODE imprint. The core pairing is joined here by guitarist Ron Anderson (Rat At Rat R, Molecules) on a program of seven untitled improvisations recorded live and in the studio (tracks 1, 2, and 7) earlier in 2013. Pitsiokos and Walter make an extraordinary pairing — at first, what’s remarkable is their hyperactive detail, Walter’s dead and trebly panoply of accents a fine match for the altoist’s squirrelly, multiphonic sputter and carved brays. Amid this constant action, Anderson inserts bizarre strands of goopy, blues-drenched phrasing and wiry, muted effects that truly seem like an attempt to throw the calculated rage of Pitsiokos and Walter off of their game.
The bulk of the set is made up of a January 2013 date at Brooklyn’s Freedom Garden. The concert material brings into play Pitsiokos’ electronics, for which he uses phrase groups and tonal attacks, complementing his alto with noisy deluges and intricate musicality. It is completely fair to say that, despite Pitsiokos’ palette sometimes resembling an agitated guinea pig, the intelligent diversity of his improvisations ensure that his sometimes “busy” approach is consistently engaging. The sixth salvo finds Anderson in power-drill mode, locking into a pounding and overdriven Detroit Rock City march, with Pitsiokos’ blood-curdling cries and honks nudging the performance into a reductionist Fun House.
Live, this trio is one of the most charged units one is likely to encounter, and the inclusion of four pieces in performance give one a taste of their mettle. The studio takes may not be quite as engaging, but they make up for it in cleanly abrasive presence, the rangy closing piece being a fine example of a slightly more refined wooliness. Interestingly, Pitsiokos and Walter have another trio with electric bassist Tim Dahl (Child Abuse, Barr/Shea/Dahl) that performs the altoist’s graphically scored compositions, occupying another side of the creative music coin Maximalism is a jewel of home-brewed, lean, and hungry free music that is well worth the effort to seek out.