Downtown NYC croney Samm Bennett is surely one of the few unsung denizens of a scene already populated by a legion of inscrutable iconoclasts. A journeyman percussionist and former student of African drumming, forgetting his tenure as a member of many a John Zorn band, Bennett's resumé reads like a studio/tour diary of East side luminaries: collaborations with the late cellist Tom Cora (as Third Person), Cuneiform avant-jazz tropes Curlew and Dr. Nerve, George Cartwright, six-string terrorist Elliott Sharp, saxophonist Graham Haynes, ad infinitum.
Angular, obtuse, and (curiously enough) extremely electronic, his duo Skist, with Japanese vocalist Haruna Ito, hosts some of the most provocative and progressive music of Bennett's storied career. A record that mysteriously slipped under most folks' radar, throughout Ellipsis, Bennett's former African drumming teachings reveal an extraordinarily rich fulcrum of polyrhythms, adjunct meters, and a range of genuinely askew and innovative time signatures, made all the more remarkable due to meticulous programming techniques rather than hand-derived skin-smacking. Cross-eyed and painless, Bennett smears a witches cauldron of capricious noises over Ito's stream-of-consciousness lyrics, sang in a restrained falsetto whose cadences entwine themselves around Bennett's sticky beats like a molasses fog.
At times, the pronounced rhythmic matrices and layers of electronic gimcrackery reveal startling sights; Bennett and Ito appear to acknowledge electronica's 90s hallmarks (IDM, glitch music, clicks n' cuts) yet their referencing of such tropes is honorary at best, since they're too enthralled by the charismatic sound design to care. "Slow Wave Sleep" gallops along on a drum 'n' bass chassis, Bennett tossing rippling lo-fi synth squiggles and sandshifting nuclei below Ito's jetstream vocals, but the aural palette is rendered with such elaborate panache only the most elitist overachiever would renounce it - Skist's somersaulting beats could in fact revive what has now become a moribund genre. On "Return", popping, jack-in-the-box electronics subvert the worlds Ito invokes by their sheer abnormality, while a triage of triangle discharge, soft synth whipsnaps and elastic pop imbibing "Trace Me" summons up all manners of electronic listening music's ghosts, from the gelatinous microforms of the late General Productions Recordings crew to the queasy listening propagated by conduits connecting Sandoz and The Black Dog, to the initial sparks generated by early 12k releases. Bottom line: Ellipsis is that rare record that denies, defies and deifies all that's most attractive about blips and bleeps, and quite superbly, too.
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