When an album opens with “March Motherfucker” and “Dance Motherfucker,” it’s going to be one hell of a ride. Brandon Lopez joins up with saxophonist Steve Baczkowski and first-call drummer Gerald Cleaver (along with Cecilia Lopez on synthesizer for one piece) to crank out a first-rate slab of free jazz experimentation. Veering between straight on freewheeling groan and skronk and noise-infused exploration, Live at Roulette rides a wave of tension, only exploding in the exact right moments.
The opening Motherfucker Suite, as I’m going to call it, starts with a skittish bounce and Baczkowski’s sax teasing the fire. High-frequency, screeched-out runs holler like kids shredding a concrete pool off the distance. Lopez’s progressive bass rhythm builds slowly, moving alongside Cleaver like clockwork, looking for an offramp to bounce onto but ultimately deciding to cool it down and head back inside to find a real groove.
“Dance Motherfucker” picks up immediately with Cleaver holding the fort while Lopez ripples lightspeed arpeggios using the back of his bow bouncing across the string just below the bridge. It’s such a mindblowing technique to me and the way he and Cleaver interact, with Baczkowski clicking in the pocket, is like the sound of an energy field growing in size. “Dance Motherfucker” flows like no other.
When Cecilia Lopez joins the fray on “Born Slumming It,” the growl of her synths coagulate around Brandon’s drawn-out bass drones. Both move ploddingly, stuck in the subterranean howl. Baczkowski’s sax is keening, the stochastic rhythm and flat, grinding bass underpinning a dead weight he’s dragging toward the surface. This brutalist dichotomy is purgative, the power of Baczkowksi’s drive spitting all the sparks to light up the world.
Throughout Live at Roulette, the López Trio shows incredible range in their cadence, restraint, and ability to go nuclear when the moment calls for it. Closing the set with “Motherfucker I Said Dance” sucks the air out of the room, all three players hitting bullseyes left and right. Lopez is the glue, thrumming into the night with grit and vision with Cleaver, as always, laying it down (someone told me recently if Gerald Cleaver plays on something, it’s always worth hearing) while Baczkowski flits between dissonant lamentations and something more reserved. This trio knows how to build an ark to the stars just as well as they can burn the whole thing to the ground. Live at Roulette is a damn fine pileup.
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