Boomkat Product Review:
Pre-eminent free improv unit SPUNK offer a feast of uncanny, otherworldly sound in Still Eating Gingerbread For Breakfast, which is a recording of both sets from their 20th anniversary concert at Nasjonal Jazzscene in Oslo, December 2015. It forms their 9th album together, and evidently demonstrates that Maja S.K. Ratkje, Hild Sofie Tafjord, Kristin Anderson and Lene Grenager have lost none of their unparalleled ability to beguile and hold our attention like no other.
Produced and mixed by the golden ears of Maja S.K. Ratkje, and mastered by Helge Sten (Deathprod), the results are unflinching, perspective-morphing portraits of the ineffably tight unit at their most attuned, putting 20 years of finely honed, near-telepathic intuition at the service of searching out fascinatingly odd new structures, timbres and sensations from an indefinable intersection of free jazz, modern composition and total improv.
It’s essentially a highly complex sort of aural alchemy, carefully combining the naturally reverberant tones of trumpet, recorders, french horns and cello with the electronic/synthesised sounds of a theremin, live processing, sampling and oscillators to create something which feels like a darker evolution of the Darwinian aesthetics applied in their previous album, Adventura Botanica.
The 43 minute first section starts tightly focussed on the interplay of Maja’s animalistic purrs, growls and slurps and the tentative buzz of Lene’s cello, before slowly zooming out to reveal a crepuscular scene of whistles and bat-baffling spatial dynamics where the cello becomes more panicked in a skirmish with Kristin’s recorder, triggering the entrance of much larger imaginary creatures, like brobdingnagian giants to the pygmys of Rashad Becker’s notional species. The effect is somehow, simultaneously daft and yet scarily unforgettable; you’ll need to pinch yourself at some point.
Allowing for an intermission, the 2nd part captures the quartet at their most possessed and kinetic, with frenetic french horn darting around wrenched cello strings and utterly manic vocals, and Maja diffracted into a coherent cacophony channelling myriad voices from beyond and within, from the spirits of Joan La Barbera and Trevor Wishart to Albert Ayler and the sounds that occur in nature when nobody’s listening.
In effect, it’s practically as close as you’ll hear to otherness in contemporary music, and, as the title Still Eating Gingerbread For Breakfast suggests, they’ve definitely not lost the wide-eyed wonder or characteristic SPUNK of Pippi Longstocking.