Deriving its moniker from a wide-mouthed chalice used in ancient Greek ceremonies, the heavy astral psych trio Rhyton grew out of the sessions for guitarist David Shuford’s Arghiledes LP (Thrill Jockey, 2011), a personal exploration of contemporary Greek folk and “other” music. For their debut, in addition to Shuford’s baritone guitar, electric saz, and mandolin, the trio consists of drummer Spencer Herbst (Messages) and bassist Jimy SeiTang (Psychic Ills) on five group improvisations. Greek music — in the loosest sense — isn’t really the main thrust of Rhyton, nor is the group a contemporary answer to Aphrodite’s Child. Rather, the trio builds on Shuford’s Middle Eastern modal explorations laid atop the monstrous pulse of bass, drums, and loops. What Messages attained with bass, hand percussion, tambura, and shruti box (Herbst’s piled floes are wonderfully transliterated to a trap kit here) is expanded into deep, plastic grooves and the spiky reverb and snaky lines of Shuford’s strings.
“Stone Colored” opens the set with a stony, loping groove, SeiTan’s hypnotic bass lilt in perfect sync with the loose, dry attack of Herbst’s fleet limbs. Whether or not one is familiar with Shuford’s work elsewhere, his status as one of the most consistently inventive and interesting guitarists of the contemporary rock underground should be cemented in Rhyton. Always something of a backseat player in other groups, his thoughtful and clean improvising going back at least to the Suntanama is now in full flower. He constructs an absolutely wonderful solo on “Stone Colored,” biting chunks from a mode and wrapping them in cottony fuzz with a concentrated wah-wah clamber that’s never showy, but hangs in tense relief with steadily rising and thrashing counterpoint. Even if psychedelic rock is no longer confined to a certain decade and can be an ultimately “modern” approach to music making, Rhyton harks back to an era when bands like Jefferson Airplane and even The Byrds were looking as much to John Coltrane and Elvin Jones as they were to their rock ‘n’ roll contemporaries — which is to say that Rhyton’s roots are in intelligently expressive and economical group communication. “Pontian Grave” follows, a lengthier piece with Shuford taking a thinner, wiry approach (courtesy of the electric saz) and cutting through the whirlwind of cymbals, toms, and reverb. The effect is a strong, bright, and sinewy Mediterranean fantasia stretching out into refracting shards.
There’s something of Messages in “Teké,” pinging echoes building into a slow, coagulant burn against Herbst’s stone-skipping, anchored backbeat, simultaneously tumbling and hip-shaking. Not enough can be said about the rhythm’s section’s complicity in making Rhyton what it is; Turkish and North African rhythms imbue Herbst’s drumming as much as modern jazz and rock, while Jimy SeiTan’s pliant, gooey bass work is constantly shifting into new divisions of time. Following the more abrasive loops, voice, and dumbek of “Dale Odalíski,” the disc closes nearly as it opens, with the dry and biting Middle Eastern psych of “Shank Raids.” With no pretense and few frills, Rhyton have created an excellent document of tripped-out modern instrumental rock, drawn from open minds and extraordinary musicianship.