S. Araw Trio XIII Activated Clown

[NNA Tapes ; 2019]

Styles: Improvisation, MIDI
Others: Sun Araw, S. Araw Trio XI-XII, S. Araw Band

In group musical improvisation, there’s something like a tide. The ebb and flow of cohesion, or harmony. There are epiphanic moments, and there are dissonances. Maybe the mark of experience or wisdom in improvised music is moving both the high and low tide toward its best expression, a psychic mitigation of swooping difference and similarity — to make dissonance epiphany, to make harmony dissonant.

Cameron Stallones’s Sun Araw galaxy flirts with a happy entropy. From his early experiments in crafting psych-rock classics (Beach Head through Ancient Romans), on through his work in the careful, beautiful constructions of Belomancie and The Saddle of The Increate, Stallones has exhibited his interest and mastery in weaving yin and yang into fortuitous and pleasing designs. And that’s just it, there: Sun Araw records are, almost universally, pleasant experiences. No matter how far the music may stray from what we call tonality, there is some ineffable essence keeping everything in the realm of the truly agreeable. Even, as here, on the improvised, herded chaos of Activated Clown, where chance, mood, and environment are allowed to run wild, one can’t imagine any dip into darkness deeper than the momentary passing cloud of a paranoid THC-vision.

The next in a series of his S. Araw Trio recordings, Activated Clown is a success. The Trio is an ever-shifting cast around the Stallones core, here embodied by Tomo Jacobson and Jon Leland. Recorded live in Portugal and featuring the MIDI instrumentation now common to Stallones’s Trio projects, one is hard-pressed to vicariously experience anything other than a deeply enjoyable evening spent in the telepathic bath only free music can summon. The players are tuned-in.

The album is a planetary coin: day-side, “Hermeto Tume,” and night-side, “Mantis Suite: Invitation to Love.” The tone on Side A is full of Araw staples: bright pops and taps, zoned-out strums, alien fizzles and symphonic happenstance. B is smoother, more prone to dreamy bliss. There’s dub, there’s the all-enveloping presence of jazz, there’s evidence of ambient music’s recent renaissance (a happening in no way unaffected by musicians like these very ones).

As on 2015’s Gazebo Effect, one can sense the electric potentiality of long-form improvised music here. A gateway to the universe. It’s an absolutely exciting experience, which pairs well with the endless supplies of chill creativity in evidence here. Nothing to “get,” just a place and an hour to be.

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