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Insecurities Danny Riley , February 22nd, 2018 14:09

Sax squawks, electronic bleeps and textural surprises: squelching jazz improv from Chicago.

Chicago improv troupe ADT enjoy the fortunate position of being able to ride two waves of critical interest associated with their city. First, they align with the renewed interest in the long tradition of Chicago as a breeding ground for exploratory jazz, evidenced last year by the reception of albums by Jaimie Branch and Joshua Abrams. Second, they’re on the local Hausu Mountain label, feted for its uncategorizable digi-psych aesthetic and projects ranging from reeds-n-noise duo Moth Cock to the glacial pop of TALsounds. But there’s enough in Insecurities for ADT to stand on their own: with its fretful interplay, stylistic u-turns and textural surprises, the album enjoyably lives up to the neuroses suggested by its title.

Like Peter Brötzmann’s Last Exit project or, more recently, Turkey’s Konstrukt, ADT bring a rock set-up to a free jazz language. But instead of battering the listener into submission, ADT specialise in unseating your bearings through queasy electronics and slippery jam passages. Given the seemingly endless textural possibility they offer, it’s surprising that synths aren’t employed more in fire music. Here, however, electronics man Kyle Drouin employs sounds that are statedly liminal - papery ruffles, insubstantial whirrs and intestinal squelches - noises that prick the ear but lie just at the edge of the sonic picture. This fits in with the overall project of Insecurities: while there are moments of abandon - like the chaotic splurge of ‘Unlimited Self Service’, with its saxophone squawks and electronic bleeps - there’s never the sense of consummation that you get in free or spiritual jazz. Frustrated ecstasy is more ADT’s thing.

The album’s centrepiece, ‘Retroactive Continuity’, is the most stated excursion into abstraction, with what sounds like rusty bicycle gears being scraped bumping into frigid parps from the sax, along with a drum set that sounds like it’s being used to play pinball as well as more electronic flatulence. Noises build in density as the session reaches its climax with jagged shudders of guitar. Yet that’s not to say all the material on Insecurities is ungraspable, or without nods to its generic forebears. The ubiquitous electric piano, which is at points used to create a chiming, celesta-like sound, anchors the music to a lineage of jazz rock history. Moreover drummer Ben Billington’s heavy-sticked style and precise, deliberate hits suggest a background in improvisational rock rather than jazz, avant garde or otherwise. These fusion aspects, however, provide some of the album’s most rewarding moments. In the slightly more grounded terrain of ‘Commotional Rescue’, we even get a head-nodding drone-and-groove situation, carried along by squirmy, swelling synth. Placed amid all the fretting, it feels almost triumphant. Album closer ‘New Body’, meanwhile, takes on a plodding swung rhythm, making the piece come off like some kind of mutant rhythm and blues. In such moments, due credit must go to guitarist Jake Acosta, who uses panning and volume effects to add an extra layer of disorientation to the proceedings.

A detailed mix by Bitchin Bajas’s Cooper Crain, whose production skills brought out the intricacies in recent works by Ben Chasny and Haley Fohr, reveals how all the constituent band members’ sonic contributions bounce off each other, though there are times when one wishes that he’d let the noise levels stray into the red a bit more. Gentler moments such as the tinkling bells of ‘Redream’ and the jokey synth-wind sounds of ‘Ersatz Bridge’, however, add to the abundance of textural invention - a mean feat for an album that’s barely over half an hour. Over that time, ADT manage to stray into some frightful zones, picking at the scab of jazz fusion and letting all kinds of multi-hued pus leak out.