Wednesday, November 25, 1998

Northern Extremes

Posted By on Wed, Nov 25, 1998 at 12:00 AM

The Boxhead Ensemble is a bunch of Chicago- and Louisville-based musicians led by Michael Krassner. After recording a soundtrack to the movie documentary Dutch Harbor in 1997, Krassner and his associates from groups such as Pinetop Seven and Australia's Dirty Three actually went on the road to perform this evocative music at several of the film's screenings across Europe. Using a revolving cast of accomplished musicians, the performances were understated instrumentals intended to accompany the film's powerful visual images of an Alaskan fishing town near the Bering Sea.

The imposing footage of Dutch Harbor's massive, frozen environment seems to have been particularly inspiring for the Boxhead Ensemble. These live recordings from concerts in France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands showcase an intuitive musical process that exudes a hushed but undeniable strength. Talented improvisers, like guitarist Mick Turner and violinist Julie Pommerleau, all contribute greatly to the dark, moody intensity of this recording. Falling somewhere among introspective jazz, noirish spaghetti-western Muzak and gentle prog-rock improvisations, the Boxhead Ensemble creates a sonic universe mirroring a glacial netherworld found in the mostly uncharted regions of the far North.

While appearances by jazz virtuoso Ken Vandermark and the notorious Palace Brother Will Oldham flesh out the compelling group dynamics, it is the subliminal talents of Pinetop Seven alumni Charles Kim, Ryan Hembry and Fred Lonberg-Holm that really enhance this recording. If you're looking for a minor milestone of thoughtful musical understatement, The Last Place To Go is the first place to look.

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