Mendoza Hoff Revels
Imagine the sound of the iconic MC5 and four of today’s aggressive avant-garde musicians and that, as well as anything, may define the sonics of the quartet dubbed Mendoza-Hoff-Revels. They are the ferocious guitarist Ava Mendoza, who broke out on William Parker’s 2021 Mayan Space Station, covered on these pages, about which this writer wrote, “… a formidable, unshakable rhythmic foundation for Mendoza to soar, squeal, cry, blare or basically do whatever she needs to do to reach the outer limits.” Trust that she does all of that and more here and in today’s conversations about rock-oriented jazz guitarists, she sits right there with Nels Cline, Marc Ribot, Mary Halvorson, and Brandon Seabrook. Judging from this date, she may well be the most aggressive of the bunch. Bassist Devin Hoff, though not as audibly a present force, splits composing these eight powerful pieces that blend rock, jazz, blues, funk, punk, and noise with Mendoza. As potent as that duo is, add the leading progressive forces of drummer Ches Smith and saxophonist James Brandon Lewis and the foursome not only shatters windows but raises roofs too. After all, it was MC5 who penned “Kick Out the Jams.” It is in that spirit that this quartet carries on.
The album title merits some explanation. Creatures from bats to dolphins and whales, as delineated in the liners from Ava and Devin, use sound to find their way through space and time by decoding sonic refractions. They found this to be an apt metaphor for these proceedings. The opening power chords of Hoff’s “Dyscalculia” will grab you by the neck and you are effectively captured for the next forty-nine minutes; that is unless you just resist the scorching onslaught in favor of something far more peaceful. Hang in there, those moments, though spare begin to reveal themselves toward the end of the album. Those who criticize jazz say things like, “four players playing four completely different things.” And, while that cynical comment could apply here with Mendoza’s heavy metal power, Lewis’s screeches and growls mixed with a few lyrical passages, Hoff’s steady demeanor, and Smith’s ever active kit work accenting odd meters, that diversity and individuality explains the allure of this ensemble. Mendoza’s title track that follows begins to open some space, with the breathtaking industrial-like harmonics of Mendoza’s guitar mixing with Lewis’s tenor on display before Lewis launches his solo over the power chords and a mid-tempo groove. Mendoza then surges forward unbounded.
“Interwhining” moves like an untethered locomotive, where conventional boundaries don’t apply, except for a melody that weaves in and out until the musicians simply abandon it and go off, vigorously riffing as if racing toward some proverbial finish line. Hoff’s “Babel-17” begins with echoing chime-like guitar notes that quickly evolve to heated power chords with Smith in whirlwind mode driving the intensity. Mendoza goes into a fuzzed-out surf guitar routine and Lewis, upon Smith’s cure, answers ferociously. Mendoza’s “New Ghosts” features Lewis in rapid clusters amidst thundering, resounding chords from Mendoza, whose tunes have a slightly stronger melody or thematic component than Hoff’s which are denser and heavier. We may be splitting hairs a bit though. Both are of the relentless sledgehammer variety. Mendoza’s “Diablada” has a cool, repetitive vamp with Hoff’s sturdy bassline more prominent than most as Mendoza and weave their lines in soaring patterns, Lewis especially reaching into outer orbits.
Hoff penned the last two, with “The Stumble” featuring a short bass solo and a bit of breather before the frontliners blast off. Even Smith is relatively restrained but only for the first minute. The piece is Hoff’s most lyrical, filled with ascending and descending scales the emerge through the thick cloud of guitar and bass distortion as well as Lewis’s blaring horn. The bass-drum tandem then get their say, developing a funky rhythm that Mendoza and Lewis fashion into an explosive climax. The closer “Ten Forward” also begins a bit contemplatively, or maybe just tentatively but Lewis becomes a violent force of nature, blowing his fiercest on the disc while Mendoza seems relatively content to fire off her resounding chords until she can’t resist joining in the fray.
Take a deep breath. Find a quiet spot. Reflect on what you heard and then vow to play again tomorrow. It may sound a bit different each time through.
- Jim Hynes
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