by Martin Longley –
The first time that I saw, and succumbed to, Pulverize The Sound was when they made a monstrously aggressive, volume-maximised appearance at the 2011 Vision Festival in New York City. Composed in a fashion that suggested the end-results on an improvisation, their breathless headbanging riffs took on the light steps of precise arrangements, as trumpeter Peter Evans, bassman Tim Dahl and drummer Mike Pride made their sonic assault. During that Vision set, Evans was switching between pure bugle-trilling and scuffed, up-close bell-chundering. The trio’s set was a thrill for both the guts and the ganglia.
The second time I saw PTS was in the summer of 2013, at Roulette, the long-standing NYC experimental venue. They’d clearly been refining their character, delving into other areas that were always present anyway. Jazz, improvisation, minimalism, droning, moderne classical. Perhaps it was just that they performed at a quieter, more contained level for this gig, but it was easier to hear the details of texture, and savour the spaces between the intricately worked out sensitivities. The load remained heavy, but the strikes were rationed into carefully poised eruptions and sudden simultaneous thematic punches. PTS could be described as delicately hard. The threesome must surely have spent many hours in rehearsal, just to make the complexity sound like spontaneous improvisation. Either that or they’d now been playing together long enough to harbour an uncanny rapport.
Dahl had toned down his distortion, so now sounded more proggy than thrashy. Evans is an expert at needling accuracy, matched with an astounding stamina. Particularly when he sculpted extended and suspended tones through the employment of circular breathing. Lesser beings would use a laptop or sampling pedal. The result was a series of spikily antagonistic pieces, a ballet of delicately tip-toed violence. Clipped like a chipping ice-pick. It’s a profoundly group-orientated music, each player serving the ultimate mission with masterly concentration.
Evans pretty much made his name as the high-wire treble pepper-sprayer of Mostly Other People Do The Killing, those warpers and perverters (yet still strangely respectful) of the jazz tradition. Now, he has moved on, hyperactive with several other combos that he’s juggling. Not least PTS.
Their Moers set on the Saturday night will combine new material with some older compositions. According to Evans, that gig at Roulette in Brooklyn marked a pivotal point in the trio’s evolution. “It happened right after we recorded our album and involved a lot of notated music,” says Evans, on the train in France, in the midst of his Bob Dylan-style tour-that-never-ends. “Afterwards, we realised that we needed to get back to focusing on improvising, keeping a certain looseness in the playing. The band is different now, moving through a wider range of material, with a lot more fluidity.”
The original drummer Mike Pride is still officially a member, but has an overriding family matter in hand at present. His replacement at Moers is Max Jaffe. “Max is a new arrival on the scene in NYC,” Evans explains. “He’s already playing with tons of people: the band Jobs, Ava Mendoza, Amirtha Kidambi, and many others. Him and Tim just did two tours with Ava [who appeared at last year’s Moers fest] so they have built a good relationship. He sounds great in the band and made the most sense as a temporary replacement for Mike.”
Evans describes a process not unlike the accustomed evolution of a typical jazz composition, but perhaps one that has a sonic texture more akin to extreme rock or electronic music. The eponymously-titled PTS album is released just this month, in time for the Moersfest, and all of its pieces have a dedicated prime composer, despite the sense that most of the tunes end up being a collective end product. “The basic structures are written out, we contribute pieces individually, and then work on the arrangements and timbres collectively. These pieces are then subject to extensive changes via collective improvisation. The musical process (and to some extent instrumentation) is not at all removed from the experience we all have in other improvisational and jazz contexts, but the raw materials are quite different, coming from a different place.”
The Moers performance will make its own original journey, combining planned events and unexpected diversions. “Nowadays, we make a roadmap for each set consisting of two or three pieces, and then connect together, building on this skeleton by improvising.”
It’s a challenge to winkle out a working method from Evans. But why should a musician want, or need, to verbalise what can be revealed by simply listening to their music? “We’ve never sat down and defined our aesthetic with words,” Evans expands. “ It’s something that evolved naturally, through a process of figuring out what kinds of things we really enjoyed, and cutting away things that seemed less unique, or redundant in some way: redundant either in terms of the band or in terms of what the group could offer us individually that we weren’t getting from other playing situations.”
It sounds as though Evans is intent on each of his performing contexts offering up a situation that’s somewhat different than what he finds in other parallel line-ups. He definitely doesn’t want to repeat any licks, form any habits or make tributes to his previous achievements.
The trio are ecstatic that they finally have an album out, after five years of playing together. Also, they are overjoyed that the Moers set will be their first gig outside of New York City. To follow, there will hopefully be a tour, and another new set of music, not surprisingly.
I quizzed Evans on his host of other playing situations, and it turns that that even if one outfit lessens its diary quotient, another will spring up to fill the schedule. “My quintet and the Zebulon trio have been my main outlets. Both bands have toured and honed lots of new music, and both groups are deepening in terms of the group dynamic and specific ethos in which they operate. They’re very distinct from each other, and from Pulverize, which is cool! I’m working with a new configuration called House Special, which is myself, Sam Pluta (electronics), Levy Lorenzo (percussion/live electronics/self-made electronic instruments), Paul Wilson or Bae Bro (synths/piano) and Kassa Overall (drums). I’m also brewing a quartet, or perhaps sextet, of all-wind instruments.”