This album was recorded during Thollem's 2017 residency at Brooklyn-based multi-discipline mecca Pioneer Works. It's the second by Radical Empathy, which combines three uncategorizable improvisors. Michael Wimberly has been astonishing folks since his days in Charles Gayle bands and Steve Coleman and Five Elements in the early '90s, and has gone on become a composer and educator of note. Nels Cline has spent decades changing people's ideas about the role of the electric guitar in multiple contexts, ranging from Wilco to Anthony Braxton (think about that!) as well as many projects as a leader; this is his fourth album in trio with Thollem, and a fifth will follow next year, also on ESP. Some people have given ESP-Disk' flak (and "flak" was not the first word choice here) about putting out Thollem McDonas albums. "He's not in the jazz tradition," they say, and even though their idea of the jazz tradition includes Albert Ayler, we like to think that this album will make their little, closed minds explode.
The heavy electronic sound of the first track, with its swathes of distortion, put it very much in Noise territory, with Wimberly contributing coloristic accents and heavier flurries of rhythmic activity. After the twenty uncompromising minutes of Collective Tunnels, for Conscious Tunnels Cline switches to a guitar tone John Abercrombie wouldn't shy away from and Thollem sits down at an acoustic piano (for a while) - though their free improvisation is just as uncompromising. The timbres cease pacifying jazzers when blippy 1950s electronic sounds slinkily slither from the speakers. Then the piano comes back, but the guitar's tone gets dirty. Genre boundaries are crushed underfoot as the moods continue to vary wildly as Conscious Tunnels covers an amazing breadth of timbres and textures.