Omens & Talismans
The Israeli trio of Barry Berko (guitar), Yair Yona (bass), and Yair Etziony (electronics) has chosen its group name well. In essence, the Farthest South is a term coined by early 20th-century explorers that refers to the southernmost point one can reach (Shackleton and Amundsen come to mind). In the case of the musicians in question, it alludes to the fact that each is intent on journeying to his southernmost point, though in tandem with his band-mates. It must needs be said that that point is never reached, however, as whenever the so-called farthest place is reached, it implicitly means that a new destination newly presents itself.
In May of 2012 the group temporarily became a quartet when saxophonist Albert Beger brought his free-jazz blowing to the studio for the day's sessions, the evidence of which can now be sampled on Omens & Talismans. Interestingly, it was the first time Beger had ever played with an electric/electronic improv group. The four stoke apocalyptic fire throughout the four-track album, which splits forty-two minutes across two vinyl sides. Each one feels like a twenty-minute live take wherein the creators' spirits fully committed themselves to the opportunity at hand.
In the opening piece, “A Lesson Learned, Part I: Creating Transformation,” electric guitar stabs and tenor sax trade barbed-wired phrases atop a molten storm of grinding electronics and bass skulduggery. Beger plays with a no-holds-barred, full-throated style that complements Berko's own white-hot slabs, before a seamless segue into “A Lesson Learned, Part II: Lecture” occurs. While Beger and Berko continue their dialogue (the saxophonist assuming the more lead role), Etziony and Yona replace the dense electronic onslaught with a dub-styled backing that allows the guitar to be heard more clearly as a distinct entity. Indulging his wild side, Berko strafes the air with dissonant shards of raw power that call to mind like-minded six-string innovators of the post-punk era.Side two's “Concrete, Part I: Godshall” opens less frenetically with Beger soloing against a smoldering backdrop of ruins generated by Etziony's electronics. Not surprisingly, the seeming calm mutates into scenes of greater turbulence and unease, the war-torn stillness ever vulnerable to the sudden onset of violence and destruction. The electronic storm gradually grows into a churning dynamo of volcanic scale, against which Beger's robust voice is still able to be heard. As on side one, the longer opening piece carries on without pause into the shorter second, in this case “Concrete, Part II: Mantram,” which gets underway with Yona's bass pulse a ground for Beger's serpentine soprano sax extemporizations and Berko's clamor. As one comes to the end of the album, it becomes clear that, in continually pushing the boundaries of its collective sound, the group has made good on its Farthest South name. It's not easy listening, for sure, but a perfectly fitting music for its time and place.