For the last three years Moritz von Oswald Trio have focused their groove research on the creation of an improvised and electro-acoustic interface between fusion-era Miles Davis and dub techno. With each new album they've presented a slightly different permutation this interface. The hypnotic sound of their debut, Vertical Ascent, rested upon a skeletal and monochromatic industrial pulse—muscular, yet streamlined. This sound was subsequently blown-out on 2010's Live in New York, a set that glows with a psychedelic vitality rooted in kosmische musik. Yet another novel iteration arrived last year in the form of Horizontal Structures, a fitting title seeing how each one of the record's four cuts is a hazy, ambient zone-out. This brings us to Fetch, which in contrast to its predecessors feels like a culmination of sorts: a dense and diverse coming together of everything von Oswald has accomplished since joining forces with cohorts Vladislav Delay and Max Loderbauer.
In regards to overall mood, Fetch echoes the trio's debut: all shadowy hues and lurking atmospherics that betray von Oswald's roots in post-punk's dystopian temperament. These qualities are particularly effective on the opener "Jam," an artfully syncopated workout with Sebastian Studnitzky on trumpet and Marc Muellbauer on bass (both guest musicians help make it the most Davis-flavored piece the trio has yet to record). Another key link between Vertical Ascent and Fetch is the prominence of Delay's home-built percussion. Of the four records the group has so far released it's on these two that his grab bag of metallic textures assumes a leading role. Throughout both "Dark" and "Club" (the latter being the most technoid track on Fetch), Delay really goes off while generating a rich array of rhythmic mechanisms, from scrap-heap clinks to what sounds like rusty machetes pressed into a sharpening stone that sluggishly rotates over and over.
As for what Fetch shares in common with the trio's other three full-lengths, it's to be found in the ensemble's interplay and how von Oswald, as producer and director, manages their hive mind. Both Live in New York and Horizontal Structures feel like documents of live jams rather meticulous sound constructions—and the same is true here. Not only that, von Oswald continues to play it loose in his equally important role as, let's call it, "spontaneous audio engineer" (think King Tubby meets Mission of Burma's Martin Swope). Fetch, in fact, picks up right where Horizontal Structures left off: von Oswald allowing the group's myriad tones and timbres to bleed out and coagulate. The best example of this just so happens to be album's most dynamic track: "Yangissa," a lumbering African-style churner with key contributions from reedman Jonas Schoen. Over the course of its 14 minutes, von Oswald oh so gradually implodes the collective rhythm until there's nothing save a vibrating grey goop out of which gnarled shrapnel shoots.
But there also exist moments when von Oswald maybe should have applied a tad more control. For as good as "Jam" and "Club" are, a couple of minutes could have been shaved off both; the thinking being that shorter running times would enhance listener appreciation (better to leave the dinner table still hungry than totally stuffed). Then again, if like these three restless musicians you're a fan of Davis, then you know all too well that excess is a tightrope the legendary jazzman never avoided walking during his fusion years.