The Portland trio, Halfbird, play a ferociously focused brand of improvisational noise jazz with all the accouterments (little melody, few anticipated chord changes, limited defining groove, etc.). Brandon Conway (guitar), Ben Kates (alto sax) and Grant Pierce (drums) channel blaring virtuosity in a cathartic and intense manner.
Loomings, Halfbird’s new live recording (out now on SDM Records), is an audacious five-song odyssey. “It’s Okay to Be Happy,” leaks politely as the trio’s greeting showcases a vigilant plan to their asymmetrical assault. The intense guitar shredding, hi-hat lifts, supreme fills, kick drum thuds, and sharp ink spitting saxophone is the perfect start to flex in front of the mirror. “Loomings” relatively calm dissonance starts off seemingly potable, building glacially, until propelled into a raucous pound and shrill of sharp tones dominated by the trio’s uncanny unison.
Conway’s guitar noodling ignites “We’ll Be Alright” by opening and closing notes so fast it’s as if he’s changing his mind a half step in, yet Pierce, through some heightened form of telepathy, anticipates this by rolling a continuous tap and spill of snare partnered with impeccable cymbal clinks. When Kates begins to spew ugly and paint thinning sax a minute in, he scratches the chalkboard like a murderous alley cat. The trio jams sub-melodically until affirming they are good to the last drop as mimicked by Conway’s drip sounding exit.
“Where Were You?” has a mountain of power and getting a foothold is nearly impossible as Halfbird directs the path through hurled boulders. Pierce’s drums migrate between Kates’ squelching sax and the rumbling guitar blasts Conway casts, offering a straight shot of elevation sickness. “The Answer Arrived In Code” offer listeners a small degree of space. The guitar is given room to stretch and bend. The sax spouts and scrapes in small, highly aggressive corners while cymbals shine and rattle until the snare marches the final instructions – merciless trouncing.
Halfbird pushes the pace to near exhaustion, showcasing their talents in every stride. Never placating randomness, but dealing surprises throughout, Loomings is a roving live experience, offering a ripe, inharmonious smear of creativity and intention.