Brian Ales


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Perhaps one could compare electric guitarist Ales' music to that of Bill Frisell or even Jon Hassell, for its country and Eastern, or space-age voodoo precepts. Yet the music is more grounded on terra firma, with an urban landscape foundation that is much more subtle than obvious. As a leader Ales also keeps to himself in the backdrop, directing the music instead of making it a vehicle for his solo voice. Layers of underground lines power softer, pastel melodies. Over the textures, excellent jazz improvisations and charts are mused over by trumpeter Cuong Vu, trombonist Curtis Hasselbring, and tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Joel Springer. Bassist Skulli Sverrisson and drummer Ben Wittman have different roles; they are ethnomusicologists, drumming up contemporary and village rhythms -- not jazz in the swing sense -- to inform these original compositions by Ales. The music is at its most pastoral and electronically spatial on "God Watch," and hymnal during "Always Together Always"; the percussion always bubbles under the crust, popping up boldly on the former cut, virtually non-existent on the latter. "International Arrivals" holds interest with a two-part concept, the first exploring Middle Eastern, shamanistic, and slowly swirling dervish motifs with steely guitar and sputnik beeps from Ales, and the second part turning hectic and nerve-racking with barking horns. A two-part "Suits by the Pool" starts steady and slow with light horns and congas, then builds with more horn interaction and unison melodies. Hasselbring and Vu, from their experience with Orange Then Blue, the Mandala Octet, and the Either/Orchestra know this developmental concept all too well. Light rock and pop beats signify the title track with singing angelic horns. A light funk with counterpointed, echoing, minimalistically barking lines for "Shutter Speed" resembles Philip Glass or Steve Reich's music, and a hyper funk on the soulful "Candy Color Questions" definitely recalls James Brown -- quite a contrast. Then there's the Bitches Brew-type, slow back beat with Vu's muted trumpet for "Like Vast"; the more Frisell-like corny and smoking "When It Would Fall Velvet Rain"; and a heavy two-beat figure melded on a dirge with seething, shimmering horns for "No Poetry." The music of Ales can definitely appeal to both new age mavens and creative jazz types. It's a style for the 21st Century that is in a stage still blossoming. Recommended.

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