Review: If, Bwana – Assemble.Age!

For Assemble.Age!, both studio and live recordings have been chopped up and carefully reassembled. I can only imagine that the source material took on a more conventional form than the unpredictable sound collages present here; impressively though, Margolis seems to have preserved a sense of communication between the instruments, despite each one being torn away from its original setting and slotted in elsewhere.

“Ringing The Bell” combines thick blotches of creeping violia, sub-bass rumbles and wavering voices to open Assemble.Age!. Everything is dragged out – tonal changes occur in gradual tectonic shifts, with pitches sliding in and out of the frame one at a time. The music hovers and looms like a black cloud and never breaks, stuck in an ugly limbo that doesn’t really settle on a clear direction and never needs to.

“Cicada #1: EHG Version” is equally disconcerted, but the atmosphere is entirely different – like a mass of space station machinery all malfunctioning at once, whirring and rising, edging the mood into new levels of panic whilst horns interject with sudden, sneeze-like lurches. The dissonance here feels uncontrollable, as natural as traffic noise or incessant chatter in public places. It’s during these two tracks that the music of If, Bwana sounds most effortlessly unified, and by no coincidence, they’re the two strongest pieces of the lot.

In contrast, “DTTO Lisa” is harder to grasp – a schizophrenic montage of wails, mutterings, sighs, moans and various vocal sound effects – snatches of blurted thoughts embedded in a constant flow of “ahs” and “oohs” that glide up and down. The listener is quite deliberately offered far too much to take in, left giddy and scrambling for an unattainable point of focus. Personally I struggle to wring any enjoyment out of this track; perhaps it’s slightly too busy and bizarre for my tastes.

“Death To The 8 Notes” and “Six Minus 6” fall somewhere in between – occasionally steering into moments of real and beautiful harmonic discomfort, but all too often sounding overcrowded and ineffective. Once again, I think that it’s the use of vocal that I don’t connect with – brash and surging in from all sides, and nowhere near as entrancing as the subtle hums sparingly slotted into the gaps on the first track. But regardless of how my opinion varies across the five pieces of Assemble.Age!, one thing is for certain – over his 27 years under the If, Bwana moniker, Al Margolis seems to have mastered the art of guising a meticulous construction process within a seemingly chaotic and of-the-moment exterior.