November 22, 2002

Test Spins: Sonic Youth/I.C.P./The Ex

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The best improvisational work is something that couldn’t have been created in a compositional setting, just as the best collaborative work is something that couldn’t have been created by any one of the artists alone. This new EP goes even further, combining the best of collaboration and improvisation to create something truly compelling.

In addition to Sonic Youth, the recording features the European free jazz collective I.C.P. and noisy electronic artists The Ex. The results, considering that the bands met and recorded without rehearsal in just two days, are remarkable.

Throughout the EP, the distorted guitar lines of Thurston Moore and Jim O’Rourke mesh with unrestrained sax and trombone blowing from I.C.P. The playing is unstructured, but the players all seem to have a sure grasp of what they’re trying to create, and the give-and-take between soloists is fascinating. This cohesiveness reaches its peak on the final track, “X,” which almost sounds composed in the way it clings to a steady base. But the way that SY’s guitarists and I.C.P.’s horn section trade interlocking solos is all spontaneous, and is the best demonstration here of just how good both collaboration and improvisation can be.

Archived article by Ed Howard