Pan is a curious project. It is an international group who, per their own testimony, combine "unusual instruments with unusual playing methods." The instrumentation is, indeed, unconventional, though it seems in line with a new wave of musicians integrating non-western instruments and stylings into the free jazz/improvisational settings. Pan sports not only the typical tenor saxophone and electric and acoustic guitars (albeit often occupying atypical spaces) and, but also the qanun (an Arabic form of zither) and the kamanchech (a traditional Iranian bowed lyre not unlike an erhu). The formidable Jung-Jae Kim takes on the tenor and skillfully deploys a range of fat deconstructions characterized by breathy heaves, clucks, and, at points, fits of fire breathing. It sometimes happens upon melodies, but rarely do these direct the musical flow and rarely do they last more than a minute or two without being resorbed by the maelstrom that Vít Beneš and Joel Haag generate with their electric and acoustic guitars. For their part, Beneš and Haag evoke the Bailey, Chadbourne, and Russell schools of warped, amelodic guitar-work. Alone, these three create a gurgling sonic stew well worth the listen.
More distinctive to this recording, however, are the work of Shafeeq Alsadi on qanun and Farshad Saremi on kamancheh. In certain pieces, Alsadi and Saremi's work blend seamlessly into the wreathing morass. On others, and usually for extended passages of reprieve, the duo forces open space for their instruments to really soar in timbres and patterns that were somewhat unfamiliar to my ears. In turn, they take the music into somatic territory that transcends and stretches the moment. I am not sure whether the qanun and kamanchech are played idiomatically or if Alsadi and Saremi are breaking boundaries. That said, the result is something that is difficult to place. Persian classical influences pop in and out of perception, and the melismatic vocals on Radio 'Nostalgia' add to the non-European direction of the music. At the same time much of this, including Kim's saxophone torsions and wonderfully understated heavy atmospherics, sounds familiarly avant-garde.
Especially in a world where there is just so much music, and so much experimental music, it is sometimes a challenge to determine whether "unusual instruments" and "alternative techniques" are done for sheer novelty, or in the pursuit of uncovering new sonic combinations and musical terrain. On I Had a Dream, the novelty is there, but the result is clearly more than a gimmick. The compositions cohere, however abstract and open they might have been. And, although Pan makes no effort to hide the unusual elements of the group, they balance this with extended passages of tempered turbulence and dreamy dissonance. They embrace the eccentricities of their sound while grounding the broader project firmly in an avant-garde aesthetic, which, apparently, is becoming quite global.
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