Milwaukee percussionist Jon Mueller (pictured) has been active for years in rock-based bands (Pele, Collections of Colonies of Bees), but these days it’s his experimental side that’s really getting my attention. He recently released a stunning multiformat set, Physical Changes (Radium)–an LP, CD, and DVD, each containing different material–that displays the same rigorous level of invention as his 2008 solo release Metals (Table of the Elements), a simulacrum of heavy metal reimagined for hammering percussion.
The first thing I noticed is that almost every piece is wall-to-wall sound. On “Nothing Changes,” recorded with cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and analog synth player Jim Schoenecker, and “The Only Constant Thing Is Change,” made with local experimental icon Dan Burke (Illusion of Safety), Mueller lays down pummeling blastbeats that eventually start to feel like white noise; some of the other tracks achieve a similar density with hydroplaning cymbal washes and bowed metal (or at least that’s what I think it is–you can never be too certain of the technique when Mueller’s involved).
For “Survival Is Not Mandatory,” an epic piece on the DVD, Schoenecker and brilliant German sound artist Marcus Schmickler create a harrowing synthetic space–a sort of spooky, hazy landscape, occasionally dissolving into total abstraction, that accompanies the nature filmmaking of David Dinnell. Though Lonberg-Holm’s cello and Mueller’s percussion show up in the credits, the acoustic elements are so thoroughly absorbed by the surrounding sounds that the whole piece feels electronic.
I’m surely giving the music short shrift because I’ve only listened to it once–I got the set just two days ago!–but it’s as compelling as anything I’ve heard this year. Mueller will present variations on Physical Changes this Saturday at the Hideout, where he’ll be joined by both Lonberg-Holm and Burke.
Earlier Saturday evening, mighty German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann brings his trio Full Blast to the Empty Bottle. The group’s latest album, Black Hole (Atavistic), is punishing free jazz, a stark contrast to the more spacious, measured sounds Brötzmann delivered here last month with drummer Nasheet Waits and bassist Eric Revis.
The Swiss rhythm section, electric bassist Marino Pliakas and drummer Michael Wertmueller (both also play together in the group Steamboat Switzerland), can dial down their attack, but even when the volume drops the activity remains frenetic. It’s not really possible to push Brötzmann around–he’s one of the strongest musicians on the planet–but there’s no question that in this lineup he has to push back in order to hold his ground. Full Blast makes some of the most vicious, crackling music he’s played since his years in the bulldozing Last Exit.