Jean-Louis Huhta - Halfway Between the World and Death / Boots Brown - Boots Brown (Slottet CDs)

Here's two of the newer releases from the upstart Swedish label Slottet, focusing on the current wave of Swedish form destroyers with records by Santa Maria (aka Maria Eriksson), Strountes (featuring Maria Eriksson) and DrapEnHund, a duo of 13-year old girls playing "slow Swedish punk rock for the future", one of whom happens to be Mats Gustafsson's daughter Alva Melin. If you don't recognize Jean-Louis Huhta or Boots Brown at a glance, well don't feel bad, because you probably do know em, in one way or another. Huhta's been around the block since the 80's, playing first in bands like post-punk Cortex and the amazing grindcore pioneers Anti Cimex, then in industrial/noise/techno informed outfits Texas Instruments, Lucky People Center and the Stonefunkers, and now onto other mutant forms of electronically inclined music with Audio Laboratory, the Skull Defekts, Brommage Dub and Ocsid. Among others, surely (Kozmic Niggah, DJ Louis, Dr. Nobody, 413...). Weird to fathom that with all this energy spent on music over the past 25ish years, "Halfway Between the World and Death" is in fact his first ever solo outing. The lineage behind Boots Brown is probably even moreso complicated, but I'm not gonna attempt to lay it all out for you. It's a quartet of Swedish improvisers, namely the aforementioned Gustafsson, Johan Berthling, Magnus Broo and David Stackenas, who I'm sure have all played together in various configurations before, but seem to be coming together under the Boots Brown moniker for the first time here. The name appears to be swiped from Boots Brown and His Blockbusters of the 1950's, apparently responsible for a tune called "Cerveza" what made it big in '58, but I can't say I've heard it. They may have also played with Little Richard but don't quote me on that.
While "Halfway Between the World and Death" is Huhta's first solo release, it could almost be listened to as a current-day retrospective looking back and reinterpreting the sounds that shaped his, er, career up to this point. Using mostly his laptop (and a little bit of guitar), Huhta embraces a multitude of styles across the 16 tracks present here, switching from polar opposites from song to song. On tracks like "Exit", "Running Boy", "Suddenly There is a Change" and "Straight to You", Huhta uses haunted, glitchy tones to offset his straight-forward guitar loops, which range from folky to soulful to psychedelic, sometimes within the same song ("Running Boy", which also features Huhta's processed voice strands, is a good example). Elsewhere, Huhta hits on eerie industrial-infected loops and noise strands ("Furniture to Sit On Kitchens to Cook in Cars to Drive", "Watching the Swells", "Marja-Lisa), and glacial Eno ambience and melting beat structures ("Assume Formlessness", "For Conny" and the astonishing crawl heard on the title track, featuring Johan Zetterquist on acoustic guitar). Huhta's funk/disco tendencies are even given time to shine on the epic closer "Truth is in the Sound", an almost aggressive dance-like deconstruction of a sinewy beat with screaming, searchlight sound effects...easily one of the best of the bunch. And there's a lot of bunch here. In fact you might say that at 76 minutes, "Halfway" wears out its welcome just a tad, but fuck that, only solo LP in however many years of service? You're hearing this one on Jean-Louis' terms, pal.

This Boots Brown ensemble is quite a different beast from the one I last heard Mats Gustafsson in, Two Bands and a Legend (well, the Thing, actually). Whereas the Thing is over-the-top garage jazz slobber, Boots Brown is just about the exact opposite - retrained, low-key, hushed, and tightly-wound. It's a testament to Gustafsson's versatility as a saxophonist (alto, tenor and slide here, not to mention electronics too) that he's able to excel equally in both settings. And he does excel - check out his lush, longform tones blown on "Mid Calf", the empty ones heard on "Gaucho Volcano" and the tire screech of "Black Industrial Greasy" - his fellow collaborators shine in equal measure. David Stackenas stands out remarkably on all tracks, his acoustic guitar spackling the landscapes of "Teak Industrial Trailblazer" and "Black Industrial Grizzly" (a shorter companion piece to "Greasy") with helter skelter chords fondly reminiscent of Derek Bailey's, and his "low budget electronics" (according to the inlay) grinding away in the background of "Gaucho Volcano" and "Mid Calf". I believe it's Gustafsson responsible for the endless gentle rattling and creaking sounds throughout "Teak Industrial" as Stackenas squares off with Magnus Broo's formidable trumpet punches and Johan Berthling lopes alongside on double bass. The two 10-minute-plus tracks, "Gaucho Volcano" (featuring Thomas Hallonsten on stomach-knotting organ warble) and "Black Industrial Greasy", make for the finest listens as the quartet take all the time necessary to deliver each note with remarkable, resounding precision making indeed the highs high and the lows low. This kind of miniscule jazz ("ultra modern chamber jazz?" asks the label) makes for a perfect antidote to the scads of heavy blowing sessions in practice across the globe today. Boots Brown remind me a lot of the criminally underrated French jazz group Hubbub, who ply their trade playing as loudly as quietly as possible. If that makes any sense to you (and it should), don't miss out on this.
Slottet also has a few new releases on the horizon that might be of interest. Boots Brown bassist Johan Berthling has his hands in a couple - "pop impressionists" Idiot Kid and a meeting between Swedish jazz trio Gul3 and Japan's Tetuzi Akiyama. Others include a duo CD between Mats Gustafsson and Christian Marclay, and a full-length from Richard Tomlinson aka Voice of the 7 Woods. Heavy times.

Click here to listen to MP3 samples from the above album


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