After 2016's From the Deep, an excellent summation of all their previous musical directions, the Heliocentrics go -- as the banner on Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters bus proclaimed -- "Further." While the Malcolm Catto-led outfit has been digging through many varieties of jazz, psych-funk, hip-hop, library grooves, and international sounds (having worked with Mulatu Astatke and Lloyd Miller) for over a decade, A World of Masks presents an intergalactic take on many of the above.
Added to the band's personnel on this date is Slovakian vocalist Barbora Patkova, who has been working with the outfit live since 2013. Like her fellow Heliocentrics, she is an explorer. While June Tyson is a reference point, Patkova is so versatile that other comparisons are equally apt: Urzula Dudziak, Julie Tippetts, Jeanne Lee, and Patty Waters also come to mind. Check Patkova's work on "Time." She seems to emerge like another instrument from a gradually increasing collective drone anchored only by Catto's drumkit. Backmasking effects, layers of santur, percussion, flutes, violin, and synths wash around the foreground, but she hovers above it all. She actually drives the band's drone psych-jazz in the title track, as flutes and tenor sax, rumbling tom-toms, santur, and a modal bassline inch toward the cliff before a squalling guitar takes them over the edge. On first single "Oh Brother," rolling snare breaks, wah-wah guitars, and a funky bassline provide the fuel for Patkova to deliver a spiritual soul message, her alto alternately floating above in a coo and pushing into the band's crackle with gritty emphasis. There are fine instrumentals here, too, including "Human Zoo," which commences like a Can jam before bringing out the horns and heading toward dirgey Afrobeat. "Dawn Chorus" is trancey drum funk appended by a spiritual Michael White-esque violin and a muddy bassline. Rock makes an appearance in the trancey psych of "The Wake," but Patkova adds her spiritual jazz phrasing as a counterbalance. Closer "The Uncertainty Principle" unfolds like a Krautrock jam with keyboards pulsing, spacy guitars, criss-crossing channels, snares, and bassline in a call and response vamp; a hypnotic saxophone line becomes the lone centerpiece to carry it out. A World of Masks is steamy, nocturnal, and economical. Most tunes are between three and five minutes, so there's never time to tire of any idea. This set is drenched in mystery; each track unfolds and transitions seamlessly as it builds and expands, enveloping the listener.