MUDANG ROCK (Fractal/Birdland)
Let no early notes foster expectations, because they’re sure to be dashed by music that keeps shifting shape and slithering out of reach. Initiated by guitarist Henry Kaiser, the project uses traditional Korean music to underpin seven improvisations. Kaiser assembled Sydney’s Simon Barker (the ultimate western improviser incorporating Korean drumming language), bassist Bill Laswell (whose whole career – including touring with Korean drummers – proves no music is off-limits) and brilliant New York alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa.
Usually Barker establishes rhythmic domains, within which the others freely improvise. Kaiser often lays out, only to make hair-raising entries: heavily treated guitar delivering lines that live in such a parallel universe as make Mahanthappa’s explosions of warmth seem mainstream. Laswell, meanwhile, has a way of finding the least likely solution to a given musical problem. But Barker is the music’s core, and his playing sounds as organic as a garden of rhythmic and textural ideas. It’s by no means all wild and woolly: guests include Soo-Yeon Lyuh playing haegum (two-string fiddle) on the plaintive Emphyrio Salpurri – although even this veers into previously uncharted territory.