Ben Cohen/Dustin Carlson/Tim Cohen – Charlatan (2020, Eschatology Records)
Charlatan! Is it a pejorative? Well that depends, but what is certain is that tis’ also the sobriquet of the ensemble of Ben Cohen (tee-nor and so-pray-no sax), Dustin Carlson (noodles), and Tim Cohen (chik-chik,trr trr,spshhh). Having (semi-)recently spun Cohen’s release with Eli Wallace ’twas on a midnight dreary while I pondered weak and weary [cue the cease and desist] what the reedist might sound like in another ensemble. Enter Charlatan the latest from Ben Cohen’s own Eschatology Records.
The release opens with ‘Don’t Panic’ – part bees in jar, part crescendoing anxiety — with a no wave twist. Tasty. The ensemble show their abilities to generate a pulpy tension which unwinds helter-skelter into cacophonous rapture. The lads are watching three different movies during the final bars. Deee-lightful. The second piece, the slow burning “The Logic of Loss” was amongst my favorite. The piece is comprised of what in some ways sounds like two discrete pieces: the first half is bristly and melancholic (a dirgy, vacant rendering of Ornette Coleman’s ‘Lonely Woman’ comes to mind) and sounds is if it is being led primarily (or wholly) by Ben Cohen; around the 4′ mark the guitar creeps in and for the next minute or so there is quite a lovely interplay between Cohen and Carlson, before the former drops out. The piece retains its dirge feel, but Carlson’s expansive playing is fresh and airy – and oddly wouldn’t be out of sorts alongside cuts from either Unwound’s late work (Cf. the last six minutes of ‘The Side Effects of Being Tired‘) or that of Tashi Dorji.
The middle bits of the album (track 3 – 5) are jelly, toast, and tea. ‘Black Tooth’ is ye olde cat/mouse improv twiddly, fun, and don’t blink because it’s just done one and gone all Frippy err maybe Ruins minus the Magna-redux bullshit. ‘Hectacomb Leather’ is perhaps the most ‘rocking’ choon on this slab of binary digits – frenzied, bombastic, &c. you know the drill. Rubber really hits the road when the guitar cuts and the car starts going down hill – the Cohen brothers really shine between 4:48 – 6:00.
Perhaps my bonafide fav on the album comes in the form of ‘Nightmare Fuel’ – breathy, bubbling, sparse and tentative – invite the neighbors, musique concrète house party vibes. Quite reminiscent of the first time I saw Mazen Kerbaj. Ben Cohen’s gasps and breaths are all over this record and perhaps one of most fascinating bits of the entire record – the listener simultaneously hears the product of creation (the playing) and the physiological gesture needed to produce that creation. A physical-extension of the age-old urtext question about where the piece really resides… some engineers might find removing breathing, string noise, etc. to be desirable, this unmistakably human element is a treat, not matter how ancillary. The album closes with two polar opposites: the penultimate ‘Slurpy Lingo’ is nauseating and plainly irritating (in the best way) and serves as an odd, yet fitting counterpoint to ‘Retrickulated’ – a traditional melody somewhere between Albert Ayler’s ‘Ghosts: First Variation’ and any of the cuts from Ornette’s 1962 LP Ornette! – served ice cold with a splash of slapdash.
Whilst there are a few scattered and (exceedingly brief) moments that are perhaps a bit stilted, all in all a solid fecking release with a wide range of dynamic and thematic explorations.
The Brothers Karamazov err The Brothers Grimm err The Brothers Cohen have fantastic sense of interplay who are aided and abetted by the sometimes far out, sometimes close in (always gnarly) playing of Dustin Carlson. Buy this record and score yr TikToks before that’s done and made illegal. Neo-Zeuhlists, Ornettephiles, and members of the American Geophysical Union take heed.