Mick Barr / Kevin Shea / Tim Dahl Barr Shea Dahl

[ugExplode; 2012]

Styles: free-improvisation, free-rock
Others: Orthrelm, Barr-Nevai, Child Abuse

It wouldn’t necessarily be wrong to call Barr Shea Dahl a brutal slab of high-octane racket, but that’s only part of the picture with this music. The trio of guitarist Mick Barr (Orthrelm, Barr-Nevai), drummer Kevin Shea (Talibam!), and electric bassist Tim Dahl (Child Abuse, Pulverize the Sound) has been performing together for several years, though this eponymous 40-minute onslaught is their first recording. Consisting of two group improvisations each lasting about 20 minutes, the record’s general tenor is full bore, with each player putting forth an extraordinarily dense and busy array of sound and action. But as with any art experience, nuance and subtlety — even if it’s not the work’s stock in trade — eventually are borne out, and a language that is at first perhaps opaque becomes clearer.

Playing a lot of notes very fast, the trio’s approach initially seems like a roomful of Clyfford Still paintings, wherein dense and craggy forms basically compete with one another, though if any member of the trio offer something “less,” the overall impact wouldn’t hang together quite so compellingly. Mick Barr uses a pretty simple setup, relying on an amp and distortion pedal coupled with flinty and rapid attack to create a swarm of gritty notes. Tim Dahl, on the other hand, approaches his well-worn axe with a battery of pedals and loops, combining determinate speed with murkier sonics to create a landscape not unlike a harsh, speed-freak variant on Hugh Hopper. Kevin Shea operates somewhere between the two, ensconced in stabbing and rolling action that, while frantic on the surface, is a crucial hybrid of responsive volleys and centering, somewhat static rhythms.

The second piece, “Gedra,” is an interesting study in dynamics, for though it retains speed and density, the relationships between “soloist” and “group” seem more pronounced, albeit fluid. Dahl shifts from picking at Barr’s tinny and nattering circularity to embracing sludgy repetition and gooey stasis, at times burying the guitarist and allowing Shea to build on an idea. Even as the trio fundamentally remains all action all the time, there’s an interesting push-pull that occurs as solos and duos either become foregrounded or recede. Perhaps “Gedra,” as it occupies the disc’s second-half slot, seems more varied and complex in its internal relationships because the listener has adjusted (succumbed might be a better word) to the trio’s approach and, like Still’s 1951-1952 (Art Institute of Chicago), what once seemed monochromatic after time displays its true range.

Sure, Barr Shea Dahl is free-improvisation in overdrive, but for a guitar-bass-drums “power trio,” they present a fascinatingly varied group language. They are also a unit that (unsurprisingly) translates very well to a live setting, where the visual aspects of response and subterfuge become readily apparent. While absent the spirituality of free jazz, the trio transcends a surface of forceful technique with a surprisingly colorful set of extreme and gutsy improvisation. And make no mistake: while Barr Shea Dahl may present this music as a toothily swirling canvas, the trio’s workmanlike vibe doesn’t negate the sheer exuberance of flat-out shredding.

Links: Mick Barr / Kevin Shea / Tim Dahl - ugExplode

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