Joy, MEGA! That’s what you get when you cross New York with Chicago by way of teleportation, apparently. Often described as indescribable, this is a band bent on building bridges.
How is it possible to be so WAY OUT yet draw people in so readily? As with any true kind of magic, the answer reveals in a set of three: the bass/drum ostinato grooves, the philosophical integrity of the band’s process, and the authentic use of voice.
1) Ostinato Anchors
While several pieces are of the tone-poemy-sound-collage type, and very well executed, it’s the ostinato grooves, and the function they serve, that stand out to me. “No Shout” and “Little Rain/Big Story” deliver with a clock-tock bone-soul vajra-fist of devotion. This is rather refreshing. We also get some Latin-Funk (“Tomar Sol”) and Swing Jazz (“Leaves Rainbow”) – solid rhythms scaffolded around the unpredictable middle of improvised sound sculpture. This is great! You can walk right into all the challenge areas with no fear whatsoever.
As for the bass alone, for much of the album, Ajemian keeps it straight and to the point, as if ferrying the entire world into the Joy Mega Universe. “I’m in Love With a Navajo Boy” is the best example: funky, solid, and jamming. I could see this tune easily extending past the 30 minute mark live, with crowds of thriving bodies dancing their way into the Joy Mega Dimension of Love. This tune is practically it’s own Woodstock….
2) The Creative Process
For Joy Mega, the philosophical integrity of process is rooted in the concepts of shared clarity and hyper-individualism. Through scores that literally read as shapes (pieces of art in and of themselves), we get to hear everyone be themselves. We are offered a lot of warm and nicely phrased melodic lines from Matt Bauder on sax. Chad Taylor on drums provides all the necessary ingredients to keep everyone connected. Jessica Pavone (violin) shines through with characteristic depth at key moments. As for Mary Halvorson on guitar, in addition to shredding some meaty glissando slides and infusing the Joy Mega Mother Ship with her signature waves and bends, she gets to play it somewhat straight up at certain moments – this alone is unique and unexpected. The result is a unified sound characterized by true freedom. (For more on Ajemian’s philosophy, check out http://jasonajemian.com/project/teleport-tone-poems )
3) The Voice
Ajemian follows in the tradition of Gil Scott-Heron, Nina Simone, Laurie Anderson, Bob Dylan, Amiri Baraka, Patti Smith, David Byrne, Gregory Corso, and Yoko Ono. As with those who’ve come before, he evolves his voice from the center of his own frame of reference. The psychedelic feeling and synthesized tonal shifts, mixed with more conventional song constructs, result in assured consistency and a gentle ease. (“100 Rainy Days,” “Slow Bird,” “Pleasure Fountains” and “Big Sky 5.”) Frankly, I feel like Ajemian is invoking the spirit of John Lennon in such an authentic manner that Lennon would be pleased. Who am I to make such a claim? Simply: a human with a heart.
This band has a whole lotta heart,
and we are