Dead Neanderthal
  • courtesy of the artist
  • Dead Neanderthals

June is an exciting time on the Milwaukee music calendar, thanks to the efforts of two distinctive record labels dedicated to presenting music from the margins. Last week the annual Okka Fest event took place, a free-jazz extravaganza organized by the folks behind Okka Disk, and this weekend is the third annual Utech Records Music Festival. Utech is a bit less defined by any particular genre than its predilection for noisy, intense extremes. A couple of European acts that record for the label are playing this weekend, and lucky for us, they’ll also swing by Chicago on Sunday, once the fest is over. Dead Neanderthals from the Netherlands and Burning Tree from Norway are both saxophone-drums duos rooted in the language of free jazz, but both push the music so hard it sometimes lands closer to harsh noise.

I haven’t heard the early material by Dead Neanderthals, but it apparently incorporated lots of electronic noise. On Polaris, its 2013 album for Utech, saxophonist Otto Kokke and drummer Rene Aquarius still kick up an unholy din using only acoustic instruments. The music is loud, jagged, visceral, and disjointed, propelled by unflagging energy and a joyful sense of mayhem. There seems to be little question that German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and Swedish reedist Mats Gustafsson are father figures to these guys, although in a 2013 interview published by the Quietus Kokke cites John Zorn’s Naked City as an early influence—there’s no missing the shared affinity for all-out assaults and stop-on-a-dime shifts. Below you can check out a track from the album called “Plissken,” which demonstrates that the duo has the ability to occasionally pull back between onslaughts.

Burning Tree
  • courtesy of the artist
  • Burning Tree

The cover of Burning Tree’s Lammergyer features an illustration of a giant arthropod skulking through fog toward a couple of vulnerable humans—i.e., it looks like a heavy metal album cover. Yet while there are no guitars—or anything plugged in—saxophonist Dag Stiberg and drummer Dag Erik Knedal Andersen certainly project as much energy, violence, and sheer horror as any metal band I’ve ever heard. In recent years Andersen has emerged as an impressive figure on Norway’s free-jazz scene, playing in groups like Saka and Akode, and collaborating with the great British bassist Dominic Lash, while Stiberg is rooted more in the noise underground. His saxophone playing is utterly manic, his breathless squalls preferring his horn’s extreme upper register as split tones, tea-kettle squeals, and serrated honks arrive in non-stop flurries egged on by his partner’s even more hyperactive beats. Andersen seems to have ingested his fair share of records by the Flying Luttenbachers, but it would appear that he found them a bit too slow for his tastes. On the side long piece “No Return” it almost seems like the music was cut into vinyl at the wrong speed—if ever there was a free jazz equivalent of thrash, Burning Tree is it. Below you can hear “Divided,” which lurches from some gnarly, tangled up solo sax blowing into an endless jackhammer barrage of mayhem

Both groups perform at Elastic, sharing the bill with a pair of Chicago groupings: Toupee and the trio of Ben Billington, Mark Shippy, and Daniel Wyche.

Today’s playlist:

Trio Mocoto, Muita Zorra! (Forma/Universal, Japan)
Donovan, The Essential Donovan (Epic/Legacy)
Jamie Baum Septet +, In this Life (Sunnyside)
Arditti Quartet, Harrison Birtwhistle: Complete String Quartets (Aeon)
Bill Orcutt, A History of Every One (Editions Mego)