The Free Jazz Collective – Roji – The Hundred Headed Women (Shhpuma) ***½


By Lee Rice Epstein

Roji is primarily a duo with Gonçalo Almeida and drummer Jörg A. Schneider. This is not the Almeida of Lama, which is how I got to know his work. Roji’s sound is dense, layered, heavy, processed, dark, and twisted. Their debut, The Hundred Headed Women, was released over the summer, but it could just as easily have emerged during the long nights of winter. Throughout writing this review, I found it impossible to avoid organic metaphors. That’s because, for all the digital effects, there’s a lushness to Roji’s playing that evokes organic matter; it’s loamic, dense and rich.

Almeida augments his bass with a great deal of processing, and Schneider’s playing sounds like it’s being filtered through a midnight fog. There’s a brassy edge to the cymbals and the drums sound like they’ve been dug up from a deep pit. Colin Webster and Susana Santos Silva guest on baritone sax and trumpet, respectively, and they blend nicely with the vibe and mood of the album. Santos Silva comes at this material halfway between her playing with Lama and her trio with Torbjörn Zetterberg and Hampus Lindwall. And Webster, well if you hadn’t guessed by now, he is a near-perfect fit for Roji.

The album’s a near palindrome, with Santos Silva guesting on the first, middle, and last tracks, and Webster mostly sandwiched between (although there’s one track—the brief, driving monster “2 Sisters”—which is only Almeida and Schneider). The album opens with a long peeling back, “Inner Roji,” which gradually cranks up the intensity, Santos Silva coming in to split the track along hidden fault lines. A bit later, “Sounding Restraint” wastes almost no time, with Webster playing off Almeida’s bass and various loops and drones, while Schneider lays down a rhythm so tense and urgent my dog got audibly nervous.

“Prelude to a Broken Sax” opens with Webster’s long tones paired with a thrilling run from Almeida. After about a minute, Webster’s tones become stretched and strained, and Almeida’s bass line becomes distorted and ragged. Again, Schneider provides a churning undercurrent of crisp fills and muted, clattering cymbals. The final track, the titular “The Hundred Headed Women,” opens with several minutes of exploratory rumination from Schneider and Almeida. Santos Silva seems to enter through a side door, sneaking in around the halfway point with some subtle shading. But the trio builds to a heavy finish, with Santos Silva alternately growling and piercing over Almeida and Schneider’s wild, rolling melody of-sorts.

In Clean Feed’s notes online, The Hundred Headed Women is described as an alternate soundtrack for Lars von Trier’s Antichrist. It’s a cinematic work, surely, and while there’s plenty of von Trier here, the album’s also infused with loads of Lynch and doses of a darker, alternate universe Malick.

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