Improvisational music can, as we know, be a bit of a minefield. When it works it can be almost transcendental. Bands, in total communion with each other, hitting moments of religious ecstasy, becoming as one with their audience. Trying to define and describe such a moment almost drove Pete Townshend to the brink of madness while writing what was to become The Who’s seminal ‘Who’s Next’. Get it wrong and you’re subjected to hours of pointless noodling and the worst excesses of free jazz.
Swedish trio CB3 (Charlotta’s Burning Trio) are committed to excavating and restoring this long lost art form and dragging it, kicking and screaming, into the roaring twenties. So, will this be a glorious Dead-esque, freshly minted, once in a lifetime moment or an off-the-cuff Nick Jonas guitar solo?
A perfunctory listen to the above track quickly lets you know which side of the fence ‘Aeons’ falls on. ‘Zodiac’ is an appetiser, easing us into CB3’s world. A nice, slightly fuzzy riff eventually leads into brief drone territory. A proggish refocus of the riff leads us back into the groove before veering into some slower, sludgier stoner fare.
‘Sonic Blaze’ ushers in a more urgent riff, and the commencement of swirly, atmospheric space rock FX (which become a staple of the rest of the album). There are nice touches of Sabbath heaviness and some tasty cymbal work before we head into our first jam proper. It’s minimal, ambient and moody – an audio floatation tank that picks you up and caresses you gently. An insistent bassline anchors the song while Charlotta Andersson’s FX driven guitars waft etherially. Finally a chugging riff appears and the band lock in efficiently around it. The song, importantly, never takes second place to ‘the jam’.
The centrepiece of the album is the 9 minute ‘Acid Haze’…man. It’s doomy – pounding and epic. It’s central riff is a lumbering, armour-plated brute of a thing. Distortion abounds while a glorious solo is drizzled over the top and set alight. It howls, wails and echoes, draped foppishly in flowing cosmic swirls. It suddenly kicks up several gears. Serious heavy psyche hoves into view, darkening the horizon. Suddenly this is rocking…hard. There are touches of Ritchie Blackmore’s wild abandon to the solo. Off it squalls into another intergalactic soundscape – it’s ‘Dark Star’ as played by Tool. Finally the song thunders to a suitably gargantuan finish. Blimey.
How to follow that? Wisely, CB3 don’t try, instead they opt to take a few diversions. ‘Warrior Queen’ is Andersson’s guitar showcase. Over a repetitive, grungy riff she solos…a lot. And what fine guitar work it is. Six string (or more) aficionado’s take note.
Final track ‘Apocalypse’ throws in a few surprises. Beginning with an acoustic intro which is almost Zep-ish in it’s folky delicacy. Although the bass begins to rumble…a portent of things to come? An electric riff joins in which chimes and clubs in equal measure before we are jolted out of our reverie by a saxophone. CB3 are clearly thinking and operating outside of the box. The sax is resolutely of the mellow, Floyd type until a touch of free jazz begins to sidestep in. But fear not, it’s all good. Twin overdubbed saxes duel to the finish, wailing off into the cosmos – an unexpected and successful denouement to an already great album.
So yes, the art of the jam is alive and well, safe in the hands of CB3. It’s 21st century psychedelia. Heavy and, yes, improvisational but controlled and stripped of any excess. The song is still the thing but room is left for exploration and invention, all of which are things CB3 have in spades. This is well worth checking out, space cowboys.
Review by Gary Cordwell
Released on 28 February 2020 by The Sign Records
- Sonic Blaze
- Acid Haze
- Warrior Queen