Gunnelpumpers – Montana Fix Album Review

Montana Fix
Spiritflake Music, 2013
On their fourth LP, free-improvisers Gunnelpumpers conjure the wide open skies and primordial landscapes of the Big Sky State.

The incantatory nature of improvised music will not appeal to everybody. It’s for a specialized sect, those that like to be surprised. It’s the spirit of adventure that sends you off on random and unknown holidays, waiting to see what lies beyond the next corner. Like any other unplanned holiday, Montana Fix has its share of tedium and embarrassing memories. But what’s good is golden, and the Chicago five piece transform your home into a sweat lodge with a mixture of Middle Eastern percussion, double bass drones, flutes, shakers and guitar.

A free improvisation CD can be a hard sell these days. Only the most hardcore mental voyagers can invest an hour to listen to an album largely devoid of hooks, choruses, lyrics, or any discernible genre. In the liner notes for Montana Fix, Gunnelpumpers cite prog rock, krautrock, world music, jazz, experimental music, as well as traditional and modern classical, as influences. Believing in everything can be the same as standing for nothing, and Gunnelpumpers run the risk of entering bloated pretentious FUSION country. In addition, considering the infrared bison that graces the album cover, the jaded listener may hastily judge this as a post-modern New Age Putumayo reject. Judge this record by its cover, and you will be deprived of its epiphanies.


The first thing we notice is that Montana Fix is gloriously recorded, almost entirely live and in the studio, with a minimum of overdubs. So that places this record in the LIVE DOCUMENT trajectory, which is where most improvised music is the most effective. It’s a real bonus, then, to have such a high-fidelity recording of the proceedings. Montana Fix could serve as a welcome introduction into the world of free music, for those that have already gotten into jazz, post-rock, or drone metal. Once you have gotten into the Montana Fix zone, you can begin to appreciate the nuances, the unusual tones and instruments, the graceful layering and polyrhythms. Where else will you find tabla mixing it up with jazz bass and noise guitar? And once you’re in the zone, Gunnelpumpers will take you places.

With tracks like “Bolander” and “Earthing”, the band prove that they know what they’re doing, guiding and structuring improvisation into a glorious classical/jazz hybrid. “Bolander” is dedicated to a deceased bassist, and “Earthing” is tuned to the resonant frequency of the Earth. It is these details, this personal touch, that seperate the masterful improvisors from the hacks. Gunnelpumpers are masters.

I will be honest, I was biased against this record, at the onset. Here’s a group of 7 academic-looking jazzbos from Chicago, playing flutes with a picture of a buffalo on the cover of their record. I have an immediate allergic reaction to even the faintest whiff of faux-Native Americana. This septet immediately shredded all my prejudice and laid them in the dust. Gunnelpumpers may be pale of skin, but every sound on this record sounds not only authentic but GIFTED, truly understanding and appreciating the hodge-podge of influences, and weaving them into something unique and distinctive.

Improvisational music is ritualistic in nature, and ritual can move or provoke anybody. Let Montana Fix turn your home into an opium den with its Middle Eastern drums and flutes. Chill out, float away, relax, sit and think.


The title “Montana Fix” was inspired by my being born in the state of Montana “back in the day”, as well a tip of the hat to John Cage, a major influence on me as well as the group. There are stories behind the track names, too. “Bolander” is an homage to a bassist and friend who died of cancer far too young, Scott Bolander Davis. “d’bass’d” outlines the song’s chord changes and features a wild solo on Clevinger (upright electric) bass. “Buffalo Jump” was inspired by Ulm Pishkun, a Montana state park sacred to Native Americans. The title “Zaftundzwanzig” is a German “neuwort” combining “juicy” and “twenty”. “Puzzle Dust” was inspired by jigsaw puzzles, and if you piece them together yourself, you know what I’m talking about.

“Earthing” is a special track unto itself. Constant lightning charges make the earth and its ionosphere ring like a mammoth gong, albeit at levels well below the human threshold of hearing. The strongest of these “Schumann Resonances“ is what some call the “Earth Resonance Frequency (ERF).” There are many facts and fictions about this frequency of 7.83 Hz, but one fact I derived independently is that it is a slightly sharp “B natural”. When Gunnelpumpers decided to record a track centered around Doug Brush’s bronze Thai rain drum, it became apparent that the drum was a slightly sharp B natural. Everyone in the group tuned up to match, and, knowing of the ERF, dedicated this song to Mother Earth. One magical take later, “Earthing” was born.

For nerds, one would tune to A-446.447 instead of A-440 for B natural to be “in tune” with the earth. Additionally, the ERF corresponds to the color green (7.83 Hz doubled 46 times equals 551 THz). It’s probably a stretch, considering the differences between light waves and sound waves, but it’s pretty cool that the earth seems to be saying “B green and B natural!”


Jason Simpson