YoshimiO / Susie Ibarra / Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe Flower of Sulphur

[Thrill Jockey; 2018]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: improvisation, free jazz, electronica
Others: Lichens, Boredoms, Mephista, Fire!

The beauty in spontaneity is captured through music much more seamlessly than in any other art form. This seems to stem from music’s temporal form, which makes the listener able to perceive spontaneity only moment by moment, fleeting and disappearing to make space for the next one. When we think about our favorite records, songs, or performances, we can’t grasp them as one would a finished painting. We might have a notion of what they feel like, what affects they immerse us in, but what we truly remember are the ways in which we construct those particular moments, which are always in relation to the whole, even if imperceptibly so. What moves us — this particular chord, that particular rhythm — becomes the song, the album, the concert in our mind: a moment stretched into infinity, our perception lost in the dialectic of temporality and eternity.

Consider another thing about spontaneity. In his lectures on freedom, Adorno presented his conception of reflex as a moment of freedom. In giving in to our impulses, we weave ourselves into the world, the access to which is usually barred by the burden of our consciousness. “The sense of being divided, of being between inner and outer, is overcome as in a flash.” It seems irrational to consider reflex as a moment of freedom, but do we ever feel more alive that in situations where afterward we have felt that our consciousness was lost for a moment, as if the body acted by itself yet united with the mind?

Perhaps that’s why improvisation feels like such a natural way of making music, why the improviser sometimes feel as if their skillset were much more honed that originally thought. Of course, improvisation sometimes doesn’t “work” (at least in the conventional sense); it can drag, it can be overly simplistic, it can be broken and devolve into incomprehension. Oftentimes it will result in what one might call mediocrity, especially when the consciousness of the improvisational act creeps back into the minds of the artists after a beautiful passage, much like post-coital tristesse. But during the moments when improvisation truly coheres into something special, it enchants the audience and the performers in ways that are very much alike, with each sound made without thinking, a reflex reaction, pure and naive, joyful. The attention of the listener will follow those reactions much more consciously, but our rationality is still allowed to take a backseat, giving space to rejoice in its inherent fleetingness.

It feels like every of those moments described above happen throughout Flower of Sulphur, a live performance by YoshimiO, Susie Ibarra, and Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe. It’s expectantly imperfect, but at its best, the performance radiates that joy of unrestricted freedom. While the slower moments of the album can feel a bit too searching at times, it all feels incredibly natural and inspired when YoshimiO, Ibarra, and Lowe finally come together. These moments truly make their impressions during the album’s overwhelming crescendoes, which here sound not forced, but freeing, the artists getting lost in the sounds while possessing the restraint needed to make these collisions not feel chaotic and messy. I feel like a special mention is very much deserved here by the percussive work of Susie Ibarra; her drums flow beautifully between rhythms, giving just the right amount of weight to every direction the trio moves toward.

Flower of Sulphur is an album to enjoy, whether it shines or falters, because such is the nature of improvisation. There are a lot of moments in it capable of capturing our attention truly and immanently, even if there are also those that might bore us and be forgotten. But it’s okay if we can only retain moments of it, because this is where the performance lives.

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