Painting by Jackson Pollock
Few “techno” albums in the past couple years feel like real watershed moments, but Moritz Von Oswald and fellow techno legends Max Loderbauer and Sasu Ripatti revealing Vertical Ascent back in 2009 would certainly count as one of them. It was strange, out-there music that, on the surface, had little to do with Von Oswald’s much-fetishized back catalog, let alone any record on the shelves at Hard Wax. And yet people rallied to it en masse, enamored with its experimental peripheries and devoutly techno core, seeing it as a vision of techno’s possible future and a statement toward techno’s rarely acknowledged jazz past. It was and it is; there is still no one at the moment attempting anything close to what these three have been doing, even with a proliferation of electronic trios and quartets, some of which do very fine work that is very different from what Moritz & Co. do.
Fetch is the new Moritz Von Oswald Trio album, and, more so than the previous couple, it does feel like the new Moritz Von Oswald Trio album. The cover is black instead of white, gone are the colored bones and rockets in favor of a photograph, and the tracks are named rather than numbered. The script hasn’t been totally flipped, however, as the sound of Fetch is immediately recognizable while finding the Trio continuing their evolution. A bit of personnel housekeeping: Marc Muellbauer is back on bass and Tobias Freund peeks in to add some live effects to the trio’s grooves, which were recorded in a swift four hours. They seem to work well with such time constraints, as the tempo and urgency here is quicker than on any of their previous material. Some found Horizontal Structures to be a bit too horizontal, moving through spacious dub environments at a rather languid pace, and in comparison Fetch breezes by.
“Jam” kicks things off and stands with “Pattern 1″ as one of the Trio’s most exciting and accessible cuts. Over its 17 and a half minutes it glides through all the hallmarks that we’re now familiar with — shifting dub-influenced bass lines, occasionally chaotic modular whirring, suitably strange percussion — but this time around there’s even more live instrumentation. Drafted in on various woodwind and brass instruments, Jonas Schoen and Sebastian Studnitzky’s instrumental overdubs push “Jam” and all of Fetch further into the realms of free jazz than before, lending the album bright hues that contrast with the decidedly darker elements the core members created. “Jam” all but dissolves in its final minute into “Dark,” a cut-time come-down that, while not as dark as its title might suggest, is the most reduced cut here.
“Club” presents the most intriguing title of the package, as while the Moritz Von Oswald Trio are most certainly dance music, whether or not they’re club music is a much thornier subject. “Club” brings the kick and the hi-hat, but remains fluid and improvisational, rather than the grid-based peaks and valleys that tend to work so well in clubs. “Yangissa” is the last, most dub-influenced cut, and covers the most ground: from it’s early stages of rolling percussion and wheezing clarinets through its final, Space Echo-d gasps, it moves (relatively) quickly through patterns and motifs. Fetch is full of these patterns, all enmeshed with one another and tugging this way and that for your attention. It’s a cliché when describing albums this detailed, but here it bears repeating: every time I listen to Fetch there is some new bass line or modular buzz that catches me off guard and forces me to rethink the whole side of the record. One would expect something with this level of detail to be a highly labored over, difficult record, but Von Oswald and his collaborators make it all seem easy, and make it a pure joy to listen to over and over again. Even if Vertical Ascent was a minor revelation, I think it’s clear that Fetch sees the Moritz Von Oswald Trio at the height of their powers, and is their finest record to date.