Lao Dan — Functioning Anomie (2018, WV Sorcerer Productions)
For many a listener hailing from Western Europe or North America, China is not the first nation to spring to mind as a hotbed of improvised and experimental music(s) (this fact is astutely gibed in the title of New Zealand label End of the Alphabet’s superlative compilation containing Chinese artists, There is No Music from China). Enter Lao Dan, alto saxophonist from Nanjing.
Lao’s forthcoming solo debut cassette on Chinese/French label WV Sorcerer Productions, Functioning Anomie, is a work that showcases the many sides of a skilled altoist. Lao’s timbre, though at times unrepentantly caustic – recalling the coarseness of Mats Gustafsson or Peter Brötzmann – also manages to reflect inward: a musical ellipsis that resignedly undulates into an evanescent question mark, that starts to disappear as soon as it is penned. Whilst capable of all the freewheeling charivari of both the aforementioned Gustafsson and Brötzmann, Lao possess a flowing, seductive side that eludes the former players, even in their most restrained moments.
One of the most fascinating elements of Lao’s debut is that the listener can hear the artist’s curiosity and fascination with the sound of his instrument in space. On both sides of the tape, one audibly discerns Lao’s acute understanding of the environment’s effect on the produced work. The result is an interesting exploration of timbre, tone, and dynamics, all of which are captured far from the sterile environment of the studio (and so often the theatre or club). Recorded in Hangzhou’s Qinglongdong Tunnel, the extraneous sounds and cavernous reverberation do not merely serve as a layer of “field-recordings” or texture in the mix, but rather help the space assume the role of actant-cum-phantom instrument.
“Riou,” the opening track on side-B, is perhaps most illustrative of Lao’s range and prowess. The first third of the tune spectrally glides from dusty blues into melancholy ballad, before Lao hums into his mouthpiece, signaling a brisk departure into new territory. For the remaining ten minutes, Lao blasts rollicking sonic sidewinders that at numerous points threaten to blast holes in the listener’s headphones from the sheer intensity (a feeling underscored by the artist’s subdued screams in the closing minute). The closer, “Doppelganger & Immateriality,” features prominent use of sultry flute lines, which makes for a heady, meditative closer on a fantastic solo debut.
Fans of darker, more abrasive strains of free jazz would be wise to check out this release, out April 30, 2018.