Earlier this year The Ex toured with a wonderful brass section, which comprised saxophonists Mats Gustafsson and Ken Vandermark, trumpeter Roy Paci and trombonist Wolter Wierbos, fleshing out the core quartet. Thrilling as that show was, however, the horn section were deployed firmly in counterpoint to the Ex’s rhythm throughout. Lean Left is another matter entirely. Recorded live in Amsterdam in March 2008, it’s an exhilaratingly vivid and spontaneous workout focused on just two or three melodic ideas, thrown down with passion and conviction. Ken Vandermark (here on tenor sax and Bb clarinet) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums) are a well-established powerhouse free jazz duo with a string of recent releases garnering uniformly positive reviews. The Ex Guitars are Andy Moor and Terrie Ex, both linchpins of veteran Dutch punks The Ex, a group whose influences extend to music from Ethiopia, Eritrea, and elsewhere, although you’ll detect little of that in this conflagration. Amid The Ex’s diverse past collaborations, those with Curlew’s improvising cellist Tom Cora in the early 90s were notably successful, and I think there’s a trace of Cora’s influence here in the way the guitarists seek to integrate texturally with the Nilssen-Love/Vandermark duo. The first seven minute segment, Left Lung, is a feature for Vandermark and Nilssen-Love. The drummer’s bristling stick work and truly explosive percussion provoke Vandermark to testify in fine style, marrying (a loose approximation this) Archie Shepp’s fire to King Curtis-like riffs. When things threaten to peak Nilssen-Love kicks into an even bolder riff, which segues into the brief Lean Over. Here the guitars enter abrasively, initially playing only a supporting role, perhaps just settling in. Soon, however, Vandermark lays up and Nilssen-Love eases off, and the guitars are left almost becalmed in an abrasively scratchy duo of their own, accompanied only by Nilssen-Love’s textural cymbal scrapes and off-skin percussion. This passage acts as a bridge into Right Lung, the main piece at over 27 minutes duration, where the sax/drums duo resume their dialogue while the Ex guitars needle away abrasively in accompaniment or add poly-rhythmic counterpoint. It’s a terrific noise, tightly integrated, developmentally coherent, and with an iron grasp of tension and release. Right Lung ends, after a few moments of applause and guitar de-tuning, with an entirely unrelated passage of textural interplay between the guitars and percussion. Vandermark takes the opportunity to trade instruments momentarily, taking a lovely, melodically brittle solo on Bb clarinet. The remaining track, Lean Leftover, is well named. It comes blaring forth in a thrilling vortex at the centre of which the double duo trade riffs, a cartoon punch-up rendered in sound. As a footnote, it’s worth pointing out to potential downloaders that the track divisions here are pretty arbitrary. Left Lung and Lean Over are really one movement which continues for most of Right Lung, the conclusion of which is a new piece. Lean Leftover is the only totally self-contained track.