“Clarinet Quartets” is a rare glimpse into a world inhabited by inspirational dark-jazz drones, infinity-bop freeform freakouts and complicated collaboration; it’s a bed of reeds gliding along, fluttering and flapping like a flock of birds’ wings. “Konrad” and “Bazin,” which comprise Side A, are Hella-combative after a soft start, tooting in a high, climactic register when they’re performing a four-way solo and digging a lot deeper when they hide in the weeds.
I could give up guitar/drums/bass/douche albums for a year if more music this stimulating and multifaceted came to my door (Asshole With A Clarinet, I will get to you; patience). The subtlety of the pillow-jazz start to “Konrad” only renders the branching out of Poltergeist-tree clarinet-offs that much more shocking and satisfying.
On Side B it’s like jazz outfit Polar Bear were drugged and left in a bandroom to work it out, and though the 7-inch format wouldn’t seem to be an ideal fit for such an ambitious splay-out of tones and smoky drones, the relative brevity of the experiment is kind of the point, and it keeps life moving. “Tarr” and “Brus” will keep you coming back for more. This is Alfred Hitchcock suspense, soothing in a way yet ready to twist a rusty pair of scissors into your eye if you pull the wrong stunt.
If you step back from Designated Mourner and view their output as a whole, haunting tones and wild-ride quadri-solos split the difference between a darker, cloaked-in-intrigue Graveyards and the restrained moments of Andy Clausen, not a bad place to be if you’re going to turn heads in an era wherein very few seem to know what is worthwhile any more.
“Clarinet Quartets” is limited to 100 copies, which is just short of staggering because I don’t want to live in a world where you all don’t have a copy to explore. The Designated Mourner, in a year packed with intrigue, deliver a hunted-to-extinction freshness to your door. Won’t you let them in before it’s too late?