Held in the palm of one's hand, with a metal or wood "tongue" that protrudes into the mouth and is plucked by the opposite forefinger, the traditional jaw-harp of Kyrgyzstan is not anyone's idea of a conduit for blog-hype music. Which is why, taken together, the 15 jaw-harp-led songs here make for one of the best palate-cleansing albums of 2011.
It wasn't long after their show-stopping, out-of-nowhere turn at the 2009 Bang On A Can marathon in lower Manhattan that Kambar Kalendarov and Kutman Sultanbekov found their way to the studio, at the behest of Cantaloupe records. Once there, the duo cut driving, motorik-like jams ("Echoes of Time") with the aid of simple percussive and woodwind support, as well as gentle solo sighs ("Reverie"). Though in either case, it's the titular instrument's overtones — at once lazer-like and breathy — that seduce the ear, giving shape to the album. ("In the Jurt," for only one player, reveals how much like singing controlled jaw-harp technique can sound.)
Will you listen to all 40 minutes in a row, each and every time? Perhaps not. Had the riffing, strummy tunes been more reliably alternated with airier koans, the overall experience might feel better sequenced. But in isolation, it's hard to find fault with a single performance here, whether in the droning harmonies of "Echo" or during the catch-me-if-you-can blowing session that is "Forward." Taken at the level of minute-to-minute experience, JAW winds up becoming buzz-band music of an altogether different frequency.