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Ava Mendoza / Dominique Leone / Nick Tamburro – “Unnatural Ways” Review & Stream

Ava Mendoza Dominique Leone Nick Tamburro - Unnatural Ways (Holy Grail From Hell)

“Notation just blinded me, it was like school again—I loathed it—and I haven’t done so badly. […] I didn’t read notation, tablature, or any other form of music. […] so that’s how I did it—I did it by ear, I did it because I love music, and I did it because I learned technique without sitting there playing scales all day—that was too boring—so I played tunes and now I improvise instead of rehearsing. I don’t really practice per se, but I do enjoy playing.” -Steve Howe

Prog and garage rock have a lot in common, and that’s not just because Robert Fripp played the solo in the extended version of Grinderman’s ‘Heathen Child,’ it is rather the notion of improvisation that makes each the evil twin of the other. Few are progressive rockers throughout the history who have cared for notations, and so the primary point of divergence between the two so-called genres/styles lies in how the songs are arranged, various aesthetic and at times directional choices, and ultimately how they are performed.

So, what would happen if an act with aesthetic tendencies that are characteristic of garage rock chooses to extend several sections of their song non-accordingly and the central focus of their jams becomes things other than solos — like introducing new patterns and various sub-riffs? The trio behind “Unnatural Ways” aren’t exactly your average indie rockers to get called a garage band to begin with; they come from the free improv. scene, with the mastermind, Ava Mendoza, having played with the likes of Tony Buck, William Winant, and Nels Cline; but they do play rock n’ roll, therefore, considering their improvisational approach and their raw, noisy equations, it would be quite safe to go with the garage rock tag. What wouldn’t be safe is to expect the expected from them.

“Unnatural Ways” is one dirty, freeform variation on the Zeppelin manifesto, with certain touches of immense psychedelia — think Ash Ra Temple — that would remind a contemporary ear of the kinds of La Otracina, Mars Volta and Afrirampo. It addedly strives for more, from a musical perspective; ergo, resembling a prog band that don’t care if a riff is played n-times or not. Sound familiar? Krautrock, yes? Well, yes, and no. Because, apart from the keyboards, there really isn’t that much variety in the sounds explored here. But yes, if you would count a 90’s Guru Guru — which involved a lot less of their trademark out-of-control experimentations — as krautrock, you could; “Unnatural Ways,” too.

In music that seeks music the vocals often become scarce or non-existent, and the case of “Unnatural Ways” is that of the former. The vocals come in only when called for and tend to sound like a deranged, high-on-LSD Marc Bolan, which is not a bad thing at all; in fact, I usually prefer anything over the typical indie rock vocals that we get these days from almost every rock record, but the random placing of the vocals and the sparsity of them comes off both as blessing and curse, because they usually spoil the instrumental frenzy for the sake of who-knows what.

I said instrumental frenzy; that happens to be the substratal element of this record, the one thing that makes it shine among the thousands of its counterparts. It’s no secret that the contemporary jazz/rock scene lacks figures like Sonny Sharrock and that prog rock has become more of a virtuoso tagline, so there’s “Unnatural Ways” for you. Kick up your heels.


Written by Ari Wilson


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