It’s nice to review a record when you’ve caught the band in action a time or two. Last January in New York, vocalist Fay Victor’s latest group fried some minds at the Winter Jazzfest stage with its memorable blend of abstraction, delicacy and impulse. While streaming Wet Robots these last few weeks, it was hard not to envision the quartet at work. Their music, which is built on the fanciful judiciousness of free improv and secured by the expertise of experience, can be both frantic and nuanced, and the way it milks the advantages of both on their debut is vivid, vivid, vivid.
Victor’s band-building skills helped the ensemble attain this achievement. SoundNoiseFUNK is wise balance of personalities, comprised of guitarist Joe Morris, saxophonist Sam Newsome and drummer Reggie Nicholson; along with the leader, each is insightful when it comes to addressing the rigors of free music. The result is a level of coherence that might turn the heads of those who’ve previously been doubtful of freedom’s attractions. Packing a wallop, Wet Robots is a program of thoughtful particulars. Morris’ lines brocade the action, occasionally fulfilling a bassist’s role. Newsome’s intrepid nature is equaled by his savvy, generating a stream of bonding ploys. Nicholson’s use of chatter and pummel is shrewd – a forever buoyant spectrum of sound.
But it’s Victor’s acrobatics that mesmerize. Unabashed when it comes to sound creation, you can hear the passion in every syllable she utters, whether manic or modest. With echoes of Lauren Newton and Meredith Monk in the air, the singer builds a web of personalized pieces that boasts exuberance, with each warble, shriek and roar crafting a ferocious identity. Informed by blues and politics, their cagey deployment is downright entrancing, especially when bolstered by this kind of collective clout.