Grid Credit: courtesy the artist

As a deep admirer of Matt Nelson’s playing in projects including the saxophone quartet Battle Trance and Amirtha Kidambi’s experimental outfit Elder Ones, I was super excited to hear what the saxophonist could do within the bruising context of Grid, a trio with electric-bass stomper Tim Dahl (a regular collaborator of former Chicagoan Weasel Walter) and drummer Nick Podgurski (Extra Life). When I first put on the trio’s self-titled album for NNA Tapes, I had trouble locating Nelson’s presence—it sounded like sludge music with coruscating guitar feedback and no discernible woodwinds. But I soon realized the harrowing sonic drapery that flows over the record’s grinding, slow-end creep is actually Nelson blowing through a range of effects pedals, creating sounds that might compare with those of a dying pachyderm letting out its final wails. Grid’s wonderfully heavy, lumbering din is more akin to doom than to free jazz, but there’s so much sonic activity in its upper register—as Nelson’s slithering cries turn into granular matter that penetrates the gut punch of the rhythm section like liquid into sand—its heady improvisational ethos is apparent. There are passages where Nelson sounds like he’s actually playing a saxophone, but more often he conjures the type of blown-out howls saxophonists Don Dietrich and Jim Sauter make in the improvisational ensemble Borbetomagus. In Grid he grounds that assault within a maelstrom of stuttering, slow-motion beats over a low end thicker than the earth’s crust.   v