For once the title fits the work, it’s open to interpretation of course but does give some indication of the type of mood that it creates. Food is Thomas Strønen and Iain Ballamy, a drummer and a sax player and this is their second album for ECM. What those two instruments don’t suggest is the soundscape of electronica that underpins everything on the record, it turns out that not only do both these musicians ‘play’ electronics but so do half of their four guests as well. Among their number are guitarists Christian Fennesz and Eivind Aarset and trumpet player Nils Petter-Molvaer.
Mercurial Balm feels like a journey, one that you can immerse yourself in with ease, and the way that it gradually builds over the first few tracks is very powerful. It’s definitely a whole album rather than a series of pieces, some work on their own it’s true but the sum of the parts is definitey greater. Ballamy’s sax is pretty mellow, he’s content to trace out a path across a field of low bass interspersed with bleeps and burbles and criss crossed by electric guitar that also maintain a calm until the climax. But as this point approaches the band creates a cauldron of visceral energy with high intensity drums and blazing brass that is reminiscent of jazz rock’s finer moments. In some respects they reach this crescendo a little too early, it’s a hard act to follow but they manage to do so by exploring different music terrain with the Aarset and Prakash Sontakke, the latter on slide guitar and vocal.
This is a powerful album that reminds me of Surman’s The Amazing Adventures of Simon Simon and Timeless by John Abercrombie, it’s not as clearcut as those but looks at the same frontiers and leaves plenty of space for the mind to wander.