Big kudos are due to Justin Mitchell of Cold Spring for making this release possible, and bringing to life one of the strangest meeting of the minds. Irwin Chusid of the Sun Ra estate released a few rare and unreleased tracks from the great artist, which would be remixed by noise maestro Masami Akita, also known as Merzbow. Strange City is the resulting remix/collaboration between the two, connecting the planes of free jazz and noise. The record was initially released in 2016, but the first reissue arrives just one year later.
The album kicks off beautifully with Sun Ra and his Arkestra introducing a vivid free jazz aesthetic, but that is quickly submerged over the noise waves produced by Merzbow. The remainder of the record sees the noise take the lead in terms of loudness, coming upfront and covering all the background. It is a harsh process that Merzbow is implementing, instead of deciphering the cosmic messages of Sun Ra, he encrypts them with his own alien DNA.
However, even behind the thick veil of noise, it is Sun Ra's spirit that guides the work. The structures, the cosmic sense and the rhythmic patterns, as altered as they are, all speak of Sun Ra's tone and modus operandi. The extreme renditions of Merzbow are coupled with the free jazz essence, projecting everything under a different light. The glass-like breaking sound in “Granular Jazz Part 2” for instance, present a stunning accompaniment to the sax phrases, coloring the edges around it before devouring it.
Strange City depends as much on the textural as it does on the improvisational. Sun Ra and his lucid structures are spread through this work. The force of the artist, completely absorbed by the countless possibilities of pattern matching, rhythm deconstruction and inharmonic exploration provide the backbone of the release, and its free jazz spirit. The textural realm is enacted by Merzbow, who looks beyond the music itself and into the timbre that can be awakened from within. While Sun Ra explore the capabilities of music, Merzbow explore the capabilities of sound, pushing it to the limits.
The overall achievement however is the strange sense of balance Strange City radiates with. While Merzbow's sonic razors are sharp and appear to be all over the spectrum, the presence of Sun Ra lies in the core of this work. Despite its disfigurement and tempering, it dictates the progression of the record, through modes of granular synthesis or extravagant processing. The most impressive moment of the record, “Livid Sun Loop” exhibits this uncanny balance, with the explosiveness of Merzbow in its purest form, while the underlying structures of Sun Ra providing the lucidity to this chaotic narrative.
7.5 / 10
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