Cactus Truck is a Dutch/American trio based in Amsterdam. Their first ‘official’ album, Brand New for China! (Public Eyesore, 2012), was a short, scabrous but nuanced blast of raw improv. Before that breakthrough, they’d self-released an eponymous CD-R in 2011, and followed that up with a cassette-only release (featuring the Ex’s Terrie Ex) entitled Macho Sex. Later came Live in USA (Tractata Records, 2013), again self-released, an album comprised of selected recordings from 37 live shows the group played across the United States from late October through mid December 2013. Their latest, Seizures Palace (Not Two), was recorded at the Brooklyn venue that gave the album its name, and dates from that end-of-tour stopover in New York. The group are ferociously tight and this doesn’t sound like a live recording at all, but detailed and immediate. Listening is a visceral pleasure.
The first track is a mere 14-second ear-pricking, an abrasion of electric bass strings, setting up the trio’s sucker-punch entry into “Will to Power”. With Stadhouders on bass, Cactus Truck come on immediately like a more loosely-moored incarnation of Peter Brötzmann’s Blast First trio, running a tad ragged at a cathartic peak of energy. Stadhouders is all over the bass strings, working them hard, while Dikeman, on tenor sax, essays multiple braying variations on brief Ayler-esque motifs. At 7:00 he stands briefly exposed, chewing things over solo, not ruminant but exultant. When Stadhouders reenters he’s on guitar, playing wiry, tensile slides that draw the heat down a notch or two. Dikeman then drops out while Govaert engages the guitarist in an increasingly tumultuous exchange.
“Drones” picks up directly from an abrupt conclusion to “Will to Power”, only with Dikeman more acidic now on alto sax. It’s a performance of focused intensity. Stadhouders plays some excoriating guitar, but moments of relative openness allow him to weave New York ‘no wave’-influenced solos (no wave being one of the group’s self-proclaimed influences, alongside Delta blues and Japanese noise) between thrumming low-string grinds, while Dikeman blows hard-forced air through the saxophone’s reed, stripping his sound raw.
“Fetzer” is necessarily looser: just drums and tenor sax in dialogue at first. Govaert keeps Dikeman buoyant on a roiling swell of percussion. When he enters on guitar, Stadhouders sandpaper-scours the group sound, producing friction but ultimately wearing his teammates down until he’s alone, essaying a rebarbative, remarkably inventive extended solo.
Then it’s the drummer, Govaert, who solos to begin “Fuck you Nash”, revealing at a less frenetic tempo his rhythmic precision and intelligence. Stadhouders’ elastic bass guitar thrums on entry, initially suggesting a funkier vibe, but Dikeman is having none of it, ripping, immediately full-throated into fire music territory.
“One for Roy” is a dedication to trumpeter Roy Campbell, Jr., who played with Cactus Truck at their last show in New York but died less than one month later, age 61. It’s an impassioned piece, but there’s an appropriately valedictory tone to Dikeman’s increasingly solipsistic soloing.
He’s back to himself on “Fourth Wind”, with Stadhouders on bass laying down strong rhythmic foundations. This gives this last piece a solidity, which momentarily suggests a settling dynamic, though the trio’s inputs never dip below red. And as the end draws nigh Stadhouders solos, stoking the friction. There’s no burnout though, just a concise, nicely-worked resolution.
Seizures Palace hits a near-perfect balance between raw power and musicality. Brötzmann remains the most obvious comparison, but I’m reminded also of the Stooges in their Funhouse prime; or, rather, a potential Funhouse only hinted at.
John Dikeman alto and tenor saxophones; Jasper Stadhouders guitar and bass; Onno Govaert drums.
Buy Seizures Palace direct from NotTwo.