Florian Ross, Udo Moll’s Infinite Loop layers distraction on top of dangerous beauty in ‘One’

European musicians Florian Ross and Udo Moll took their longstanding courtship with avant-garde jazz to the next, intoxicating level as Infinite Loop in the strange but layered, purposeful “One.” CREDIT: Florian Ross

Avant-garde or experimental, ambient jazz can go one of two ways: a train wreck of amateurs, or what Florian Ross and Udo Moll just pulled off.

German pianist and composer Florian Ross is no amateur. Prolific and prosaic, the early Naxos Jazz recording artist already set the bar high last year with three accomplished, ambitious albums: the organ trio in “Wheels And Wires,” the big band of “Ties And Loose Ends,” and “Front Room Songs,” an intimate piano solo portrait.

This year, Ross paired up with his long-time colleague, trumpeter Udo Moll, to conquer another level of jazz as Infinite Loop in the self-produced “One.” Together, they pool their resources — Moll’s trumpet and laptop, and Ross’ grand piano, use of loops and delay — to perform due diligence on an electro-acoustic improvisational angle, all without losing an iota of musicality.

That musicality is intriguingly buried beneath layers and layers of distracting, discomfiting, stop-and-start sound effects, often to the breaking point before releasing, cutting off, and shutting down, leaving a strange sense of unease. At times, Moll seems to squeeze his warm, tonal trumpet until it’s crying out for mercy after a formidable power play, while Ross introduces a menacing turn in the minor rumble of piano chords (“Turn Of Fate”).

Ross and Moll combine their traditional jazz instruments with carefully selected, machine-generated replicas of everyday sounds for a full emotional effect. Nothing is left to chance, as it sometimes feels with lesser avant-garde artists who throw caution and artistry aside for simple shock value. The beauty of the lyrical notes always remains in play, if not in the forefront.

It’s as if the duo intends for the listener to strain through the bells and whistles, monkey calls and rotary dial tones to get to the music. The music underlying the variant strains of everyday life is almost always beautiful, if slightly disturbed, as if it will bite at any moment. Listen to “Stairwell Flight,” which would be perfectly suited in a contemporary Hitchcock soundtrack. The piece plays on static interfering with the unsettling loveliness below. It will make the listener stop and double-check for power surges in an approaching thunderstorm. Ross’ piano rides the fine line between insanity and the supernatural, with the distant tome of a clock’s cymbal underscore. An image of an old lady clinging to her doll after devouring her young surges forth.

“Argo Navis” is the strangest, most distracting and frustrating of the bunch. Immediately, the mutterings of an unsound mind — Bigfoot on acid — together with the on/off switch of a buzz saw rotary phone startle, as Ross’ piano and Moll’s trumpet beckon with the promise of pleasantries in a classical, big band parade.

Much of this avant-garde, jazz instrumental album plays on skipped, curtailed beats, causing the frustrated listener to wait and long for a beautiful jazz conclusion, which never really comes. The rotary dial phone death in “Report,” the faulty, flickering “Akustikkoppler,” and the gassy goose “Superstoiker” exemplify this tortuous, unfulfilled tease.

“Burnout Babe” is a trip, an invitation inside the ADHD mind of a loose cannon, starting with the frantic, fruitless search for the right track on a channel finder, then a shot in the psychedelic kaleidoscope of a busy terminal right after a natural disaster, then nothing. Jolt to the system.

“Vault” and the Miles Davis-ian “Turn Of Fate” almost give that listener a beautiful release as the most complete-sounding, lyrical songs on the menu, not just a causal effect of the 21st century electronic playground in loop-delay bytes.

It takes professionals who have already mastered the hard task of melody and harmony chord changes to do avant-garde jazz any justice. Florian Ross and Udo Moll proved they’re more than up to the task.

Article first appeared in Examiner Feb. 17, 2014.