After an intriguing but perhaps not wholly satisfying debut for ECM back in 2010, avant-garde jazz act Food have followed up Quiet Inlet with the equally dense platter titled Mercurial Balm. This time around, the core of the band, Thomas Stronen (drums, percussion, electronics), Iain Ballamy (saxophones, electronics), Christian Fennesz (guitar, electronics), and Nils Petter Molvaer (trumpet) are joined by Prakash Sontakke on slide guitar and vocals and Eivind Aarset on guitar and electronics. Recorded in Oslo, Norway, there's a bleakness about this album that coincides directly with the region that it gave birth to.
After the airy & tranquil opening of "Nebular", Stronen's busy drum & percussion work provides the foundation for spacey electronics and Ballamy's soul searching sax on "Celestial Food". It's a pleasant, somewhat upbeat track, and easily one of the CDs highlights. "Ascendant" provides some chilling background noise created by guitar soundscapes and Ballamy's mysterious sax melodies, while the tribal beats and undercurrent of menace permeate the dark "Phase". The slow build of "Astral" goes on for just over 9-minutes, but in all honesty it could have probably been shortened some, as it's not till nearly the mid-way point before some crashing guitar chords and squealing sax come into play. The title track features some tasty guitar melodies (good to see the band is putting their 3 axe players to some use here), and "Galactic Roll" is a superb vehicle for Stronen's rumbling drum attack underneath some yearning sax melodies courtesy of Ballamy.
As with Quiet Inlet, Mercurial Balm is not an easy nor always engaging listen, but there is no denying the level of understated musicianship & songwriting on display here. Good to hear the presence of guitars throughout the CD, as sparingly used as they are (one of my complaints about their previous outing) but it seems to have come at the expense of Molvaer, whose trumpet work really takes a backseat. Solid stuff though, which won't be for everyone's jazz tastes but if you have an ear for avant-garde and minimalistic sounds give this a try.
2) Celestial Food
8) Mercurial Balm
10) Galactic Roll