A wombat is a medium-sized Australian marsupial that has the brawniness of a bear, the face of a weasel, and the temper of an angry toddler. In other words, it’s a rarity that comes with a side of volatility. Not unlike its namesake, Wombat, an Iowa City-based free jazz trio, leans into unpredictability on their newest record, The order in which they exist. Visceral sound is their playground, where they bring disparate, fragmented ideas together to form mesmerizing textures.
Wombat comprises Carlos Cotallo Solares on guitar and electronics, Justin Comer on saxophone and objects, and Will Yager on double bass and objects. The trio touts influences from art music, noise, jazz, metal, and drone, and on The order in which they exist, you can hear tidbits from each genre mesh together. Detailed textures are a subtle focal point of the music, which exudes extraordinary mass.
“Obsidian Jaw” exemplifies the idea of fine detail mixed with overwhelming noise. Obsidian is a type of hellish black volcanic glass, while a jaw calls to mind jagged edges. The music illustrates both. Soft saxophone flutters and low bass grumbles hover above a grating drone. Eventually, the drone emerges with the force of deep Earth’s eruption, sliding between two powerful notes. The mood is menacing: melody is eschewed for fragments of ideas and spine-tingling sounds.
Free jazz, as an overarching genre, embodies pure sound, pure release, and pure abandon. The genre, which burst forth in the 1960s, was created to break down the previously-established rules of jazz, exchanging conventional rhythmic and tonal parameters for well-coordinated cacophony. The order in which they exist follows this trajectory by matching reckless abandon with fine precision. It’s easy to hear each musician in a bubble — bass in one corner, guitar in another, saxophone on a distant planet — but it’s equally as easy to hear them as one cohesive unit.
On “Martial Craft,” perhaps the record’s most abstract piece, sounds flit in and out. A squawk leaps in, a bass’ plucks slide around a scale, an electric guitar’s static crescendos and fades. But you can still feel communication within the disarray. The sonic fragments play off of one another, reacting to the motion of the music and offering new ideas. Improvisation is a group effort, and abstraction is a means to a holistic end.
Like the music, the song titles are fragmented thoughts, sentences that float off into the ether without concrete meaning. “You’re thinking of sauerkraut” is a coarse exploration that moves in waves of gritty texture, eventually fading away into nothing; “I have been all of them” is an unsettling blast of noise that falls back deep into the void. Raucousness and mystery go hand-in-hand, and the listener is simply along for the ride. Where Wombat finds its groove is in its penchant for the impulsive. Music forgoes melody in search of eerie texture and rhythm stands still in favor of a timeless oblivion, giving rise to fiery explosions that slowly flame out.