steering clear of the mainstream
since 2001

june 2010

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info opinion

Ben Hall / Mike Khoury / Jason Shearer

"Insignia" CDR

Public Eyesore

Genres: free jazz, improv

Bryan Day / PE
3803 S 25th St.
Omaha, NE 68107

Dec 16 - 22 2002

As the holiday season soon approaches, it is clear that this year's hot ticket, as far as gift-giving goes, is the collaboration between free jazzists Ben Hall, Mike Khoury, and Jason Shearer. Packed full of energetic, tension-heavy free jazz pieces, Insignia is one of the most enjoyable improv releases to come out in a while.

On the nine tracks of Insignia, Ben Hall plays percussion (and occasionally piano), Mike Khoury plays violin, and Jason Shearer plays saxophone, clarinet, and flute. The results of the collaboration are nothing less than hectic. Though occasionally their sound becomes quieter and more subtle, the majority of Insignia is spent with the artists either excitingly blasting away at their instruments, or masterfully building tension. In fact, Insignia is all about tension. "Six and Lodge" is a good example of this - as Hall's spastic percussion pops and crashes along in the background, Khoury's violin strokes slowly poke at the listener's ears, going back and forth and back and forth until all of the sudden Shearer comes in with a flute and messes things up, causing the violin to suddenly go insane. The chain reaction is interesting, and the music is completely amazing. It's the stuff that free jazz fans go crazy for.

Other tracks are similarly enjoyable. "Shotgun," perhaps an allusion to Peter Brotzmann's classic "Machine Gun" piece, is an exciting, energetic romp that's filled with mile-a-minute sax slurs, freaked-out dashes of the violin strings, and destructive percussive insanity. "Last Date," on the other hand, is a mysterious, dark track that features clarinet in the foreground. The mere hints of cymbals and violin in the background help build the eerie background, and it maintains this tense, creepy atmosphere until the very end.

Altogether, Insignia is a fantastic free jazz album that should appeal to most improv fans out there. The inclusion of violin, an instrument not often found in jazz music, adds an original element to the sound. Recommended.


Matt Shimmer

[Vitals: 9 tracks; distributed by the label; released 2001]