Gonimoblast is led by Chris Mapp, a Birmingham-based artist who plays solo bass and electronics shows in addition to jazz and improv, the latter most notably as a member of Paul Dunmall’s Sextet. On Always Darkest Before Dawnn (sic), it’s the experiments with bass and electronics that are explored more expansively, in collaboration with trumpet player Sam Wooster and keyboard player Dan Nicholls, both of whom double on synths. In this primarily electronic electroacoustic quartet, drummer Mark Sanders is the natural acoustician.
The album’s shortest track, “Always” (05:42) leads with what sounds like a bass-bolstered and processed China cymbal hit, before reverting immediately to silence for twenty seconds. Then there’s an incoming tide of cymbal-scurry and rolling thunder bass drumming, and Sam Wooster adds blurry smears of trumpet, all amid a blizzard of electronics. The introduction of ominous mechanical drones imposes order, bringing the performance into focus and leading to a gradual slackening in tempo.
It’s great to hear Sanders in this context. So often chosen for his mastery of dynamics, feel and texture above sheer physical prowess in acoustic improv settings, his kit drumming sounds edgily vital and dynamic when, as here, the mix has him shrouded in an electronic fug.
“Darkest”, the album’s longest piece at 14:10, features the additional electronics of Leafcutter John, whose skills have been honed playing alongside Seb Rochford in Polar Bear. In this new context he spills trademark game controller glitch and whirl amid the relatively ponderous bleeping, tweaks, sundry sampledelic pings and arabesques of synthesised sound. Sanders pattens the collective whorl with rim shots and small percussives, earthy acoustics that ground the group sound and eventually bind it into a thrumming, propulsive torrent of particulate energy, amid which parps and smears of muted trumpet suggest connections with Miles Davis’ post-Stockhausen electroacoustic Cosmiche.
The “Darkest” fadeout segues into “Before” on a bridge of brushed toms and bass drum booms that propel a feisty, unmuted, free-flowing trumpet solo. Before long, the air is just as densely alive with acoustic particulates as it was with electronics on the preceding track. Mapp’s bass and Nicholls synth enter only in the fourth minute, and their solidity imposes a degree of order. The piece becomes more voluble and volatile before the group begin to reel everything in, but by the close the music’s turning over, a steady motoric, all threads spooling together.
“Dawnn” 09:30 is less directional, abrasive synth and cymbal strikes coalescing into thrumming, didgeridoo-like drones that pulse through a clamourous jangle of suspended chimes and idiophonic percussion, until eventually the drones recede to distant perspective, leaving only an afterimage of twinkling electronics.
Mapp formed Gonimoblast in 2013, and promises that Always Darkest Before Dawnn is just the first of “around 5 new [Gonimoblast] albums,” which will be realised before year end 2016. It’s a striking first entry. I admire the concision with which volatility and teeming detail has been harnessed, and I’ll be interested to see how Mapp and co. expand on the new music blueprint they’ve charted and already exploded.
Sam Wooster trumpet & synth; Dan Nicholls keys & synths; Chris Mapp bass & electronics; Mark Sanders drums & percussion; Leafcutter John electronics.
Buy Always Darkest Before Dawnn via Bandcamp (download only).