Alex Masso EnsembleNo doubt about it: The Alex Masso Ensemble is out there. Experimental. Improvisational. Art music. Sound art. Call it what you will. Somewhere between Stravinsky and Cage. Or somewhere else entirely? Depends where it takes you. It's bound to take you on some kind of trip. Into yourself. Out of yourself. Out of body. Out of your mind. It's liable to excite; perplex; provoke; annoy; soothe. All this. And more.

And there's purity in it. One has the sense no-one on stage knows how it will begin, until it begins. What will fill the middle. Will it be a soft centre, or something hard and brittle? How, or when, it will end. This is the rugged beauty of it. It's all about the journey. The destination is muted; uncertain; indefinable. The whole exercise transcends conventional value judgments: it demands a whole new set of criteria; in fact, it transcends even that, for it is not so linear as to even admit something as intellectually bourgeois and passe as 'criteria'. Are you satisfied? Unsatisfied? probably both. It's all part of the experience, which is more authentically psychedelic than any substance will provide.

Alex Masso is a drummer (more than that, a percussionist), who graduated in jazz, from the Con, and now plays whatever the hell he wants; whatever the hell he likes. Like many young jazz musos (some discussed recently, in these very electronic pages), he doesn't let even jazz define, or confine, him. What it is isn't nearly as important as the fact it just is.

He's a busy guy: co-leader of Trio Apoplectic, a heavy-touring band, with an album through Jazzgroove. But it doesn't stop there. He collaborates with other Sydney-based groups, like The Splinter Orchestra and The Vampires. Interstate, he works with Marc Hannaford and Spontaneous Acts of Provocation. Indeed, he's associated with improvised projects throughout Australasia. And he's been known to go solo, too. To add to his cred, he's lined-up with living legends Bernie McGann and Warwick Alder, Sudanese musician Asim Gorashi and saxophonists Kris Wanders, Jeff Henderson and Peter Farrar.

This ensemble consisted also of Finn Ryan, on percussion; Jono Lake, piano; Sam Dobson, double-bass; Monika Brooks, piano, accordion & laptop. Masso dabbles in his own electronic effects, too.

Like their fearless leader, they mainly hail come from a jazz background, but have leaned out that window, into the spontaneous, weird and wondrous world of exploratory musical surgery, wherein the physical bounds of their very instruments are challenged, let alone any orthodoxies they might've absorbed. This has taken them into the esteemed company of the likes of Wadada Leo Smith, Ubercube, OJCS & The West Head Project, among others.

Cymbals are dropped and dragged on snares, rims and shells become a functional part of the kit; the accordion is teased; the piano keyboard lid used percussively; the bass bowed, while a pencil, wedged between strings, distorts the sound. And these aren't the only radical manoeuvres. The results are as unpredictable and dangerous for the performers as listeners.

Almost inevitably, you won't like everything you hear: some sounds are downright grating. It's neither music you could likely listen to every day, even if you wanted to. But that isn't really the point. It's important and vital music, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it makes the listener sit-up and pay attention: it reawakens and reinvigorates. Secondly, it tears up every musical notion you've ever learned; every preconception is shredded. Thirdly, in so doing, it fulfils a significant political function, in pursuing 'fuckyouism', unconditionally; without favour, giving no quarter, entertaining no compromise.

The fact these five musicians age from just 17 (to 25) and have emerged from backwaters like Bowral, Wollongong, Nowra and the Blue Mountains makes the mature, cosmopolitan, bohemian nature of their output all the more remarkable. Working in a series of duos was also a powerful precedent for the apres-interval, orgiastic group aesthetic. Some people will loathe what TAME does. Some people are shocked by new; different; distinctive; deviant. And some of us are thrilled, inspired and reassured by the possibilities such an attitude opens up.


ALEX MASSO ENSEMBLE

Where: SOUND LOUNGE, Seymour Centre
Date: 8pm Wednesday 27 August 2008
Price: $20 Full / $12 Concession & Under 30
Bookings: (02) 9351 7940 or tickets available at the door

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