Luc Ex’s Assemblée is something of a super-group that pits together voices from all over the underground music community. Hamid Drake serves as a powerful drummer with tendencies for heavy handed grooves, whereas Ingrid Laubrock and Ab Baars trade quirky, avant-garde saxophone melodies that encompass a wide array of extended techniques. Lux Ex himself is a powerful bassist with stage presence and natural musicality to lead any group in the right direction. The group’s Saturday night show at this year’s Suoni Per Il Popolo festival showcased a massive dynamic range making for surprising moments throughout each of the two sets.
Lux Ex’s spirit could be explained with one specific incident during the night’s concert. In the heat of the moment, Hamid Drake accidently threw one of his drum sticks into the air nearly hitting Ex and spurring laughter from the audience. Not to be outdone, Ex quickly grabbed the stick off the ground and used it to push down all four of his bass strings at once quickly sliding up and down the neck of the instrument. This moment stands as a perfect metaphor for Ex’s approach to the band’s music. By masterfully utilizing everything at his disposal to create, Ex inspires resourceful thinking from each member of the ensemble, challenging them to create and think in different ways.
At their loudest, the band can really pack a punch. Drake’s drum style is highly communicative with his fills immediately responding to all of the melodic shapes the group has to offer. This combined with his heavy, backbeat grooves makes for a huge sound. Although drums definitely dominate the more driving pieces of the band’s soundscape, the rest of the group still manages to keep up. For Ab Baars noise is generated by his squealing altissimo that smashes through the glass of the ensemble sound, immediately calling attention to stage right. Ex’s growling bass fills out the lower end with fast paced bass lines and chordal playing making the lack of piano an afterthought. There were a slew of huge, final blows after the band had amassed a huge wall of sound that truly left the audience in a state of shock culminating in a standing ovation at the end of the night.
In the quieter sections it is Ingrid Laubrock that seems to lead the way with her astounding talent for playing quietly and beautifully. Laubrock’s saxophone tone is somewhat unmatchable, her subtlety forcing the other musicians in the room to listen very close to her highly specified nuances. In some instances, Laubrock even used a mute in the bell of her saxophone to whisper at an even quieter level. Ex recognizes these talents, which was made clear when he gave her space in one of the later pieces to play alone in a ballad. Another feat of extended technique came when Laubrock used tones generated from pressing down the keys of her saxophone to accompany a particularly abstract melody from Ex. Also, Laubrock seemed to have a slightly tongue in cheek moment late in the second set when she ran off stage to grab her cell phone so that she could compliment Ab Baars’ whispery wooden flute playing with bird calls. Although the bigger moments may seem the most entertaining to an untrained ear, these little pieces of subtlety are vital to the band’s musicality: without them the climaxes would fall flat.
It was interesting to see free jazz with such a strong rhythmic rooting. Ex’s history as a post-punk musician bounds him a bit to certain idioms, but the musicians surrounding serve the grooves justice making for a unique musical experience. In getting to speak with Ingrid Laubrock leading up to the concert, she told me to be weary of the “jazz” classification. Perhaps this band does not sound like your typical night at Upstairs Jazz Club, however, experimentation is the name of the game at Suoni Per Il Popolo and this ensemble fit in perfectly.
-Review by Donovan Burtan