The Upshot: Wonderfully infused with the drifting, half-heard, hard-to-pin-down sense-memory quality of music drifting in from other rooms, long ago.
BY JENNIFER KELLY
Joseph Shabason has wound his sax around the slinky neo-soul of DIANA and the yacht-rocking-smooth-i-ties of Destroyer’s Kaputt, working the sensual proclivities of his primary instrument on other people’s account. Here in his first solo full-length, he sands down the edges of the jazz-man’s axe, denaturing the sound until it evokes rather than presents itself. Almost all these songs have the drifting, half-heard, hard-to-pin-down sense-memory quality of music drifting in from other rooms, long ago.
Indeed, in opener “Looking Forward to Something Dude,” saxophone sounds have decayed and frayed to the point where they resembled dopplering late night train whistles rather than a big band instrument. They surge and fade amid other elliptical sounds, offhand brushes at cymbals, twittering waves of electronics, a surge of brass that sounds almost like a dance band flourish, but just that, with the melody left out. “Aytche” is brighter and more unreal, following a luminously calm pulse of electronics, with a muted trumpet tracing a thin line of melody over it. “Neil McCauley,” an early single, is named after the title character of the 1995 film Heat; it sports a noire-ish smoke and haze, fusion-y bass rumbling up in an unhurried way, pearl drops of piano, late night saxophone trying out phrases, considering, shrugging, trying another.
Shabason is playing with the idea of decay and loss of memory on Aytche. “Westmeath,” the lone track with sampled vocals makes this more or less explicit. Through serene, unruffled washes of electronic tone, you catch muffled bits of conversation, “My father died…” “My mother…” that hint at something very sad. You catch only bits of it, and that, somehow makes it all the more evocative.
There are a couple of louder, more dissonant cuts, due largely to the input of Nic Bragg who plays guitar in Destroyer. (Several of Shabason’s colleagues from other bands make fine contributions, J.P. Carter from Destroyer on trumpet, Bram Gielen of DIANA on bass.) Yet though the guitar in both “Smokestack” and “Belching Smoke” is frenzied and sharp, it plays over the same bed of calm, fuzzy serenity (you can hear it when the guitar drops out in “Belching Smoke”); even the anxiety of fast, distorted guitar, it seems, can be seen through the lens of memory, fainter and more emotionally wrought because of the distance.
DOWNLOAD: “Aytche,” “Neil McCauley”