In 1960, saxophonist and composer Ornette Coleman recorded Free Jazz with what was deemed a “double quartet,” including two trumpets, two basses, himself, a clarinet, and two drummers, each quartet playing in one channel. Roman label Subsound Records would seem to be following that blueprint with the beginning of its own Double Quartet Serie Volume 1 that pits Californian desert rock mainstays Fatso Jetson and Gary Arce of Yawning Man in right channel and Toulon, France-based experimentalists Hifiklub.
The project, the connections to jazz for which can be found through the general spirit of improvisational exploration more than swapping solos or anything like that, was recorded in Coxinhell Studio in Southern France. Fatso Jetson were working with the lineup of guitarist/vocalist Mario Lalli, bassist Dino von Lalli and drummer Tony Tornay on a European tour with Yawning Man, and Hifiklub — who in the past have collaborated with Mike Watt, Lee Renaldo of Sonic Youth, and Alain Johannes, who mixed and mastered this release, are comprised of bassist/vocalist Régis Laugier, guitarist Nicolas Morcillo, art-and-stuff-ist Arnaud Maguet and drummer Pascal Abbatucci Julien.
Eight dudes, in a room together, making their way through seven tracks/37:41 of improv vibing, it’s no wonder one can hear bits and pieces of conversation taking place throughout, though that might also be samples playing through the songs. With such a wide-open sonic range, it’s important to acknowledge any number of possibilities for what could be happening at any given moment.
Goes without saying that Hifiklub vs. Fatso Jetson + Gary Arce, as a whole, eight-piece unit, are tailor-made for headphones. Any single one of those entities would be headphone-worthy on their own, and together, their sounds coming through different channels on the vast “A la Fin Je l’Espère Calme,” that’s even more the case. The album glides through a suitably varied scope of moods, from the rolling, massive-in-the-low-end march of side A closer “Glorious Whores” — also the longest cut at 8:02 — to the noise-wash build of “Safe in Pieces,” which is almost straightforward compared to some of what’s going on.
That’s not to say there isn’t a sense of structure throughout. Beginning with “Tenderloin Vignette” (video premiere here), Double Quartet Serie Vol. 1 pairs longer tracks with shorter ones. It’s not that “Tenderloin Vignette” is a rocker and the subsequent “Un Gribouillis De La Beauté” (3:10) an interlude — both keep a consistent focus on ambience — but it seems more about different jams working in different ways depending on which element is in the lead.
“Tenderloin Vignette” follows the guitar and “Un Gribouillis De La Beauté” presents a more sparse, key-led wash that gets immediately contrasted by the double-drum solo from Tornay and Julien at the launch of “Glorious Whores,” soon enough joined by a bass tone so rumbling it’s almost funny that turns out to be a defining aspect of the song around which the guitars and drums build to a considerable plod.
There are vocals on several of the tracks, “Glorious Whores” among them, but no discernible lyrics to form a verse/chorus trade, which only underscores the dudes-in-a-room-playing-off-the-cuff spirit of the record as a whole. None of these players are strangers to improv or to collaboration, so to have them working together is still an experiment, but definitely one that benefits from their general readiness to plug in and play.
And the shorter, more atmospheric pieces — “Un Gribouillis De La Beauté,” “Black Without White,” “A la Fin Je l’Espère Calme” — do much to avoid a “sessions” kind of feel, adding range to the project overall and giving context to the post-grunge guitar work on “Safe in Pieces” or the dreamy meld in “Tenderloin Vignette.” That tradeoff becomes even more apparent on side B, with four tracks beginning with “Black Without White” leading into “Safe in Pieces” and the pair of “A la Fin Je l’Espère Calme” and “The Rocky Road to Holiness” closing out.
More conversation is had — literal and figurative — as guitars play off each other in “A la Fin Je l’Espère Calme,” but with how fluidly they do so, it would be easy to listen to a a whole record of nothing but that, particularly with the keys surrounding. To call it a jam I guess is fair enough, but it’s more of a standalone piece, and it comes apart to let the quiet start of the finale set its mood with more foreboding guitar, toms and cymbal wash, introducing chanting before the two-minute mark and dropping out circa 2:30 into its 7:29 to let the guitar introduce the figure on which “The Rocky Road to Holiness” will roll Double Quartet Serie Vol. 1 to its conclusion, both drummers working in lockstep as the bass and guitars build around them.
By the time they’re about five minutes deep, they’ve brought the wash to its head, and topping it with some “ohh”-type vocals from one side, the other, or both, it’s a cohesive way to cap the release as it winds down, underscoring the point that throughout, it’s not so much a case of Fatso Jetson and Gary Arce opposing Hifiklub as working in concert with them. I said as much with the video premiere, but really, what the eight-piece Hifiklub vs. Fatso Jetson + Gary Arce conjure is molten to the point of liquidity, and with how well they fit together, Double Quartet Serie Vol. 1 is able to engage front-to-back with a genuine sense of adventure and immersive depth.