This is certainly one of the most hard-to-pin-down releases I have listened to this year. Seattle’s Newaxeyes are an experimental quartet (Will Hayes and Tyler Coray on guitars, Bret Gardin and Jordan Rundle on synths and other electronics) who make techno with rock instrumentation, synthesizers, and sampling. Their new release “Assange/Church” was released on DivineDroid records last October. They have only been together for roughly a year and a half, but this record shows promise, eclecticism, and assurance.
Newaxeyes find inspiration in a wide variety of styles of music, and have shared bills with psych rock, hip hop, and noise. One of the most ready connections one can make with their music is with post-rock, and this is especially clear on the mini-epic “Assange”. This track sounds like a hard-edged Bowery Electric, a grim techno trip with a crystalline guitar line as the main guide. Just as intriguing is the slightly dissonant closer, “Church”, which starts off with a chirping synth wading through choppy bursts of noise and growling guitar, then abruptly transitions into a weird, murky hip-hop beat. This collective can sculpt left-of-center noise into something danceable, and already I am curious to see what they might produce on a full-length release. They would most certainly be at home at Sanctuary Sunday’s next installment of Accent/Sustain.
Here is another great submission from a Washington-based musician, Brad Gibson’s jazz sextet Poontet’s self-titled debut EP.
The coupling of a provocative moniker and album cover to very pleasantly harmonic jazz sounds brings to mind all the really engaging fusion I’ve sampled in my life. Because, like Gibson noted in this interesting piece on the EP, the whole trick is to get people’s attention, because with some art it’s often best to be bold and go all out. Hence, all those fusion albums from the 60’s and 70’s that had really surreal album art that would always arouse my curiosity better than any review or simple description. I’m into that.
The point is that this is fun music that the band had a great time making, and that Gibson has got the right idea of how to promote it. This is very good jazz record that is never boring, and demonstrates a very mature vision. Gibson has a light touch, and one can tell in the perfectly precise momentum of these pieces and the seamless interplay between alto saxophonist Bryan Smith and trumpeter Scott Morning that he must be a demanding bandleader. I particularly appreciated “Twilight”– unpretentious and organic jazz that unfolds rather casually, and everything falls into place seemingly effortlessly. It’s a cool, humble record and I hope that my readers in the Northwest not only check it out but support Poontet. Here is a photo of them, by artist Denney Goodhew:
I get a lot of enjoyment out of jazz, but I don’t always understand it. Here is a submission that will take many re-listens to properly appreciate (beyond simply enjoying it): a labor of love called Exploding Syndrome by Washington’s Sam Boshnack Quintet.
Seattle-based composer and trumpeter Samantha Boshnack has worked for many years as a co-leader for the jazz group Reptet and leader of the 14-piece chamber orchestra B’shnorkestra, in addition to collaborating extensively as a session musician. Sam Boshnack Quintet, formed in 2011, was Boshnack’s first turn as leader of a smaller jazz ensemble and this album is the band’s recording debut. This reviewer was honored with the opportunity not just to support a fine West Coast jazz act, but an acclaimed composer’s recording debut as a quintet bandleader, their first stab as director of proceedings for a smaller-scale jazz project, more or less. Sam Boshnack Quintet is Sam Boshnack on trumpet, Beth Fleenor on clarinet, Max Wood on drums, Isaac Castillo on upright bass, and Dawn Clement on keyboards.
Boshnack and her players are punchy and nimble. Overall, it is clear that Sam Boshnack Quintet is a project that is indeed influenced by the Third Stream style, but faintly, really. There is a fair amount of improvisation on this record. Boshnack has mentioned that she draws inspiration from Afro-Cuban jazz– that deceptively carefree rhythmic pattern is a strong force in this music, creating a tone that is sometimes playful, sometimes uneasy, almost grave. Take for instance, Castillo’s solemn riff about four and a half minutes into “Dormant” that the other players hover around with so much crazy energy. What does one call this kind of jazz? Interesting to behold, this much is for sure.
The performances are consistently on point and there is elegance to the checks and balances the band put on themselves– one of Fleenor’s stately solos will never be too far from one of Clement’s abrupt bursts on piano. Contrasting tracks like “Exploding Syndrome” and “Xi” with each other makes the album seemingly an exercise in how to balance antecedent playful chaos and consequent seriousness, a seriousness that, like a lot of chamber music and Third stream, sounds like the positing of a question. It’s pretty and engaging music that will definitely please serious fans of jazz (so, probably more serious than this reviewer…).
I really liked the gentle closer, “Ashcloud”. This is one of the modes of this band that I enjoyed a lot…there’s a bit of that restrained, “cool” feeling, tempered with a slightly uneasy modernity. Mystery and beautiful restraint. For all fans of chamber music, this is most certainly a must-listen.
Check out the band’s Bandcamp and, for my readers in Portland, here’s hoping I will see you on August 20th at Revival Drum Shop for Sam Boshnack Quintet’s west coast tour.