Thursday, April 12, 2018

Dan Weiss - Starebaby (Pi Recordings, 2018)

Drummer and composer Dan Weiss is one of the leading lights of the progressive jazz scene, recording widely as a sideman, and often as a leader, whether it's with a piano trio, a large ensemble and now a very exciting quintet featuring Ben Monder on guitar, Trevor Dunn on electric bass, and Craig Taborn and Matt Mitchell on keyboards and piano. What makes this group so interesting is Weiss's goal to bring musicians together to create music that combines the improvisational nature of jazz with the enormity of heavy metal and electronic music. The result works very well, creating music that is edgy and powerful without falling into any jazz fusion cliches. They open disarmingly enough with the subtle acoustic guitar of "A Puncher's Chance" which gradually fills in with heavier sounds, creating an early 70's King Crimson vibe. "Depredation" adds organ an keyboard textures to create a mysterious sound backed by an ominous drumbeat and snarls of guitar flashing like heat lightning in the distance. Short motifs bubble up and are expanded upon before falling back into the overall stew, and thick sludgy bass and keyboards take over from below, punctuated by grinding guitar feedback. They shift back to a spacey and haunting sound on "Annica" with large droplets of piano hanging in space and dropping into the void, before the sound gradually fills in with bass and drums resonating though the overall sound. The interplay of the acoustic and electric instruments creates some very exciting and ominous tension within the music's structure, especially when drifting back unexpectedly to solo piano improvisation, before the music electrifies into a skull crushing conclusion. Electronic keyboards frame a pulsating bass and drum groove on "Badalamenti" with shards of neon toned electric guitar shooting through the soundscape. The band builds a collective improvisation that is cohesive and powerful, with a killer guitar solo from Monder, and a wonderful rhythmic foundation and drum solo from the leader, with warped keyboard sounds taking the music to the outer realms before gracefully evolving to an acoustic piano finish. Heavy piano plays off against thick bass and electric keyboard on "Cry Box" creating an eerie and cinematic atmosphere, becoming quite complex with the addition of stinging electric guitar soaring over the strong rhythm and leading to a scouring full band improvisation, dynamically shifting back into open space with subtle brushwork and melodic piano and guitar. "The Memory of My Memory" is spacey, with haunting and reverberating sounds creating an auditory funhouse, gradually creating stratified layers of music that meld and blend with massive slabs of bass and punishing drums kicking the music into an entirely new direction, imposing a harsh and bracing manner of playing that is more at home in post-rock experimentalism. Crisp drum rhythms are the focus of the lengthy concluding track "Episode 8" with manic keyboard playing and slashing percussion cutting the music to ribbons. The music unfolds episodically with nuanced waves of guitar and keyboard leading into a vicious percussion and bass led power rock extravaganza. Although perhaps better described as improvised progressive rock than heavy metal, this album is groundbreaking and forward thinking, allowing the musicians unfettered access to their own creativity and providing a wide screen canvas upon which to display it. Starebaby - amazon.com

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