“lemon crystal sunshine” is both the first release by chicago’s tiger hatchery outside the orbit of their in-house imprints and their most coherent, lovingly realized, and hi-fidelity statement to date, with all the makings of a proper public debut. it’s no small thing to say that, in a world of massively hyped ad hoc collabs, mike forbes (tenor sax), andrew scott young (double bass), and ben billington (drums) are a genuine, dedicated, and hard-touring ensemble, and a stunningly matched one at that; while all three players have turned in head-spinning cult sessions in the past few years (forbes with j. guy laughlin, forbes and young as a duo and with weasel walter on 2009’s skullsplitting “american free” lp, and billington solo and in duos with jason soliday and brett naucke), i knew from the first seconds of their set at champagne of fests iii last year that this was something special, and the performances of theirs that i’ve caught since then, at voice of the valley, philly’s danger danger, and cleveland’s the cool ranch have only reinforced that notion.
at once too formalist, too perversely ludic, and too explicitly conscious of all the resonant objects they’re wrangling to tolerate an easy lumping-in with the neo-fire music camp and too focused on actual asskicking and immersive sheets of lusciously corroded timbral wonder to permit their reduction to ego-fodder for the plausibly bed-wetting highbrow improv set, tiger hatchery got those legs underneath ’em amid a grueling mise en abime of basement fistpumpers, and it shows. refreshingly indifferent to any/all tired, eyeball-glazing handwringing over the moral hazards of idiom, as only a band too adept and committed to bother with such rhetorical crutches can afford to be, they are, quite simply, one of the best free jazz outfits operating today.
forbes’ bloody, eviscerating tone and evan parker-level circular breathing chops are already the talk of the proverbial town, but what’s most impressive is the integration of these traits into a complete and highly personal style characterized by flinty reserve, strikingly antihuman phrasing, obsessively slonimskyian cellular/permutational construction, and the occasional, tantalizing glimpse of a bent, neomodern lyrical sensibility, evidenced at the start of side two as he comes on like ornette coleman disintegrating in a hail of cough syrup. what glues this all together is young and billington’s strikingly congruent rhythmic vocabularies, the sum of which is often rich in loose-limbed, muppety thwack, though “lemon crystal sunshine” offers each of them ample opportunity to stretch out into more nuanced territory as well. midway through side one, billington takes his finest recorded solo to date, a nearly whisper-quiet manifesto of gradually ratcheted-up tension that deftly sidesteps the cliches of contemporary free drumming, drawing to a close as young picks up the bow for a spiraling, kaleidoscopic duet with forbes, showing off a gently weathered approach to the higher partials that’s both commendably focused and almost shockingly lovely. i promised myself that i’d never end a writeup with the phrase “must grip,” but seriously.