A listener hearing the opening moments of "White Nights," the leadoff track to Sky Bleached, might surmise that drummer/composer/bandleader Dylan Ryan traveled by train from his old hometown Chicago to the sunnier stomping grounds of new home L.A., and became inspired by the Great Plains rolling past his window, its endless fields suffused and saturated by early evening light. That's the sort of imagery "White Nights" brings to mind, with the expansive twang of guitarist Timothy Young (Zony Mash, the Youngs, THRUSTER!) suggesting wide-open spaces in a manner similar to Bill Frisell. This is merely one façet of Sky Bleached, however, and axeman Young is masterfully diverse, his strong presence sometimes even suggesting he's leading the date. Yet this is Dylan Ryan's Sand trio, and the drummer penned five of Sky Bleached's ten tracks, while collaborating with Young and bassist Devin Hoff (Nels Cline Singers) on four improvisational numbers. The production often gives Ryan a huge, cavernous sound, one tipoff that he's the man in charge. Another clue is the rhythmic inventiveness apparent from the very start, as Ryan drives and syncopates, but never clutters up, the propulsive but unusual time signatures ("White Nights" in five; "Barocco" in seven). Ryan wrote some wonderful charts for his Chicago quintet-to-septet Herculaneum, and his compositional voice remains apparent in this stripped-down lineup -- so once again give credit to Young, as he melds improvisational lines with ringing single-note melodies and thick chords to create the richly textured sound Ryan envisioned for Sand. And the music does get thick. "Mayan Sun" features a Hendrix-style feedback-drenched assault; this track is followed by a seriously damaged version of Paul Motian's "White Magic" from 1981's Psalm -- the ECM label recording debut for none other than Bill Frisell. The original "White Magic" was a pretty rockin' tune, but Sand send it into overdrive, with Young blistering through the original call-and-response phrases of Frisell and saxophonists Joe Lovano and Billy Drewes. Aside from his deep propulsion, Hoff's fine arco skills are also displayed on Sky Bleached, nowhere more effectively than when paired with Young's ambient washes and searching leads on the floating dronescape "Soft Rain on a Dead Sea." Beginning in darker ambient terrain, "Dreamspell" is pulled by the trio members into a free-rolling jam of escalating energy and tension until they lurch to an impromptu conclusion. Ryan's nearly seven-minute "Time Stalkers" is more thoroughly composed but follows a similar energy trajectory, beginning as a ramshackle waltz and rocking out into walls of ringing chords and harmonics. The last of the drummer's compositions, "Translucent Spheres," ventures toward Mark Knopfler territory, not entirely a left-field surprise for Dylan Ryan's Sand, whose ability to conjure up a panoply of sounds seems assured as long as Timothy Young is given free rein.
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AllMusic Review by Dave Lynch