Recently I met up with a friend for a drink. The bar wasn’t bad, the band (a sort of Man Or Astroman? homage; surf rock, and funny costumes) was OK, but we were both pretty beat (read: old), so we headed back to his house for an early nightcap and some conversation on the patio, on the first truly breezy evening of the fall.
He put on an experimental jazz band that he’d heard about on Radiolab, and as we chatted (and occasionally lapsed into tired and companionable silence), the spectral percussive music mingled perfectly with the nearby wind chimes and the soft susurrus of the 40-foot tall stand of bamboo overhead.
There was some discussion around here recently about what jazz was; there seemed to be a consensus that it was improvised; spontaneous; that at minimum there should be a little looseness in its approach to beat or melody.
In that sense, this methodical music must be some sort of anti-jazz. Jazz under an electron microscope.
It’s a record made by a human trio (grand piano, upright bass and drums) simulating loops; it’s inspired by computer music, but composed and played 100% by hand. If primarily-electronic artists like Squarepusher* and Four Tet were sometimes reaching back (or across) to jazz, these guys are seemingly building a bridge from the other side.
African influences are there too; at times, I am reminded of thumb pianos (DOM’s pianist sometimes keys with one hand and reaches inside the piano body to manipulate and damp strings with the other), or Konono No. 1. Multiple concurrent rhythms and time signatures, cycling into and falling out of phase with one another with orbital periodicity, like the moons the tracks are all named after.
The record is divided into 9 tracks; but they are really 9 movements of a single 46-minute polyrythmic exploration of beat (and the spaces between) that the multi-ethnic musicians obsessively rehearsed (apparently, they have been known to practice in total darkness, intended to sharpen their hearing and musical interplay) and played live for 18 months, until they could replicate it each time perfectly; only then did they record it.
Give it a listen, and let me know what y’all think.
*He’s OK on the jazz bass too.