Music Reviews

Artist: Mahlon Hoard
Title: Slicnaton
Format: CD
Label: New Music Solutions (@)
Distributor: New Music Solutions
Rated: *****

Okay, here’s the deal. When I received this CD to review, I popped it in the player without any pre-conceived notions of what kind of music I was getting into , began to listen to it, and absolutely hated it. Just what the hell is this- a squealing sax over some vaguely experimental electronic ambience? I took it out, put it away and decided I’d save my cutting remarks for another day. I’m glad I did.

After getting back to it in a couple of weeks, I began to understand what was going on. What we have here is a rather unusual experimental premise- an avant-garde saxophonist improvising (on first takes no less) over some rather strange experimental/ abstract backing tracks. When it comes to the avant-garde, I tend to grimace a bit, because I really have to be in the mood for it, especially avant-garde free jazz. Although I used to think this stuff was the domain of intellectuals who were much further out in the planes than I'd ever care to be, I came to the realization over the years that this kind of music is much more about feeling than thinking. Pop music is soulless compared to it, when it’s done properly. This is music from the gut, and a good player lays out his very essence before you in the often-twisted fashion that unrehearsed expression takes. So... how does that jive with electronically created ambiences, ala Ornette Coleman meets John Cage and Brian Eno in a dark alley kind of thing? You’d be surprised.

"Slicnaton" opens with what sounds like film ticking through an old projector and some subtle, soft and low horn burblings. Warped melting strings with light ghostly arpeggios from some kind of keyboard morphing into something else... ? provide the next backing tracks, while sparse, restrained overblown notes play sporadically. Something akin to a thumb piano on speed offers light melodic percussion and the sax meanors into jazzier territory. I can even recognize a few riffs now.
The weirdness kicks in on the 4th track, "Operator" where a sample and hold bit of electronics mixes with light random percussion and the sax begins to get wiggy. The following track, offers multi-tracked sax over a drone-tone... interesting how it all sounds so far away...

"Dron" has the most overtly electronic ambience, like a barrel-full of tiny bells, while the sax plays stray notes. I think I had given up by this time on the first listen, not knowing that the best was yet to come.

Next something completely different was happening, and it seemed like the sax and the ambiences were working together. Still an odd combo, but better integration. On "Whorgan", a track evocative of Phillip Glass in his abstract phase, the sax seemed more comfortable flitting around weaving emotion, rather than just random notes. It’s the ten+ minute long track, "Ishe", where the experiment really begins to pay off. It evokes a lonely, cry of desperation in an environment of dark isolation, a fruitless struggle against hostile elements, like birds caught in a black tide of oil. It’s tragic, painful, and full of woe. This is where the emotion really grabs you.

"Hey Sarah" is almost upbeat in comparison, but in spite of percussive elements, there is no beat. Maybe now is a good time to mention the backing tracks were created by Nic Slaton. I’m sure though, that some of the percussive sounds I’m hearing on this track were produced by rapid fingers over the sax keypads. The playing grows more frenetic matching the rapid percussive sounds, then adds a few poignant suspense notes. This is actually turning into quite a showcase of what Mahlon Hoard is capable of with minimal accompaniment. The playing is restrained, and a lesser skilled player could never have pulled this one off. It’s interesting, even if every track doesn’t ultimately work. If avant-garde sax, or experimental music with tendencies toward the minimal toot your horn, give it a listen. This isn’t one for the masses, but I doubt Mahlon Hoard was even remotely shooting for that.

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