New and original things are always tough to describe. The urge to classify is comforting, perhaps necessary. Is it chamber-jazz? Or some kind of indie alternative rock? What about new wave improvisation? Frankly, I can’t tell you.
First and foremost, there is Ila Cantor’s guitar. Cantor is a deep guitarist; her pick and strum and pluck equally resonant with classical Spain and hardcore rock, gypsy jazz and the cool touch of masters like Jim Hall. Creature is a strikingly pure guitar album: pure, but definitely not purist. There are effects, electronics. How could there not be, so many decades after Charlie Christian and Jimmy Hendrix and Robert Fripp? True to her moment in the history of the instrument, Cantor makes her guitar speak with a vocabulary replete and plangent, echo and call and foray into the unknown.
No less definitive are Cantor’s compositions: deliberate, almost stately in their postulation of theme, classical in their restraint – until they turn in sinuous development and break out in meticulous rhythmic discord, progressing not only harmonically but sonically, always coherent and shaped by a craft both measured and luxuriant. Like her guitar Cantor’s writing embraces rather than fuses diverse musical forms. It is an unhyphenated music all her own.
And then there is Cantor’s trio, with Matt Brewer on upright bass and Tommy Crane on drums. The responsiveness — the back and forth of swelling and receding sound and percussive counter-rhythm, the absolutely assured foundation across which Cantor weaves her beguiling motifs and riffs and lines — is thrilling. This is a tight risk-taking trio, an organism that adapts impressively with every sonic bud and bloom.
Why Creature? But else what do you call an animal, a living breathing vital thing that as yet has no name? This is indeed living vital emergent music. Before we try to name it, listen.