on the spectrum does by che chen and robbie lee, via audiomer

Che Chen & Robbie Lee – The Spectrum Does (2017)

It’s strange what lodges itself in memory, but, roughly 15 years later, Che Chen drifting through the door of the loft I shared with a couple of friends in Bushwick, feels like yesterday. It wasn’t a particularly dynamic meeting, nor the seeds for the close friendship we would subsequently form, just a casual hello between two ships passing for the first time.

Recently, through his ecstatic guitar lines, making up half of 75 Dollar Bill – his project with Rick Brown, Che has fallen into the international spotlight, with that band often cited as among the best working today. While entirely deserving of the praise – it’s possible that I’ve seen 75 Dollar Bill more than any other person on the planet, I’ve also secretly worried that it might overshadow the breadth, diversity, and dynamics of Che’s larger body of work. Over the years that I have known him, he has remained one the most fiercely principled and adventurous experimental musicians in the landscape. A true believer and advocate for all of the potential avant-garde approaches to sound hold.

Part of the difficulty in capturing a glimpse of Che’s larger practice, is that it has been largely shackled to NY – as a member of the Tony Conrad ensemble, or countless pick-up improvisational groups. Che works in the moment, with only a small number of his efforts – the most rewarding and reoccurring relationships, committed to tape – beyond 75 Dollar Bill, those with Rolyn Hu (as True Primes), Tetuzi Akiyama, Chie Mukai, his recently formed trio with Aki Onda and Tashi Dorji, and, among a small handful of others, his long standing collaboration with Robbie Lee – one product of which stands before us now.

Che and Robbie began collaborating somewhere around the middle of the 2000’s, the first recorded output of which came within a series of CD-R releases and then an LP entitled Begin and Continue!, which was self-issued in 2008 – the product of a rigorous period of collaboration, which saw the pair meeting and playing multiple times a week. The recordings which make up The Spectrum Does were made a few years later, and despite their brilliance, have sadly remained shelved in the years since, appearing now for the first time with none of the power diminished.

I often cite a distinction made by Mike Watt, where he notes that there are two primary kinds of musicians – those who come to their instrument because of their love of music, and those who come to music because of their love for their instrument. Che and Robbie are exceptions to this norm. While both are arguably members of the first trope, their deep love of instruments – a great many of them, with the sounds they generate and the practices which surround them, verges on obsession and trumps all preexisting relationships. The Spectrum Does is a perfect crystallization of this anomaly, darting around the edges of a diverse number of sonic traditions from across the globe, while entirely singular, internal, and the product of a deep sensitivity between each player and the instruments on which it was made – Che making contributions on  violin, harmonium, bass recorder, tape machine, electronics, and percussion, and Robbie on flute, tarogato, melodica, great bass recorder, electronics, and percussion.

Like its predecessor Begin and Continue!, The Spectrum Does is comprised of freely improvised explorations of sound and timbre – what the duo refer to as sonic foraging or shambolic folk minimalism – a responsive patchwork which assembles references to free jazz, the musics of north Africa, the Middle East, Java, Tibet, with explicit noise and drone, into a totality which resembles little else. In the simplest and most direct terms, the LP is stunning – a brutal, jarring, and ecstatic celebration through organizations of sound. As raw as it is sensitive and delicate, it stands as a reminder of the possibilities which can be reached when music is led by the ear, and through improvisation at large.

A recorded moment which stands as a testament to the fact that there is as much visionary, groundbreaking, and exciting music being made today as any era before, The Spectrum Does is an incredible installment from a duo we haven’t heard enough from. Let’s hope there is more to come. Once again, hats off to my dear old friend. Check it out below, and pick it up from Che’s Bandcamp page, SoundOhm, Experimedia, Forced Exposure, or a record store near you.

-Bradford Bailey

 

 

Che Chen & Robbie Lee – The Spectrum Does (2017)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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