Where to start with Burning Ghosts? Thematically, they’re one of the most politically conscious bands out there, with a keen mix of justice, outrage, and empathy. Trumpeter Daniel Rosenboom, guitarist Jake Vossler, bassist Richard Giddens, and drummer Aaron McLendon are each insanely skilled. They’re self-described as jazz-metal, but their sound, especially on their sophomore album Reclamation, is filtered through a decidedly SoCal aesthetic: think Sunset Strip metal and glam meets San Pedro and Long Beach punk. There’s a moment in the opening “FTOF” when Vossler rips a guitar solo so classically metal I wouldn’t be surprised to see him do a slow walk towards the camera in a “Hot for Teacher” parody video. At the same time, the music is often ragged and raw, reflecting the urgency of the moment.
As much fun as the album gets, however, Burning Ghosts isn’t just here for fun. Vossler and Rosenboom, who share composer credits on the whole album, are well aware of how influential and necessary art is to spreading politically charged messages. The titles give you some sense of intention: “The War Machine,” “Radicals,” “Gaslight,” “Zero Hour,” “Revolution.” “FTOF” (“Fuck the Old Firm”) opens with a brief McLendon solo, then Rosenboom joins and the two introduce the melody in syncopated duet. After their initial statement, Vossler and Giddens join and the song takes off. “Radicals” is one of the album highlights, with an outstanding solo from Giddens. Shortly after his solo, the band turns on a dime and drops into a proto-funk rhythm. The dexterity of the band members is incredible, with Rosenboom sounding inhumanly fierce.
Giddens is highlighted again on the loose suite “Betrayal” / “Gaslight” / “Catalyst.” The rotating spotlight helps to bring each member in and out of focus on an album that barely takes a break. Even the balladic opening of “The War Machine” leads to an piercing elegy for the churning death and destruction of America’s longest war. Of course, this is my interpretation, but the performance, especially Rosenboom’s trumpet playing throughout, definitely drove me in that direction. McLendon is absolutely brilliant, switching up rhythms, and effortlessly blending free playing with heavy thrash. In addition to Burning Ghosts, I recommend checking out McLendon and Vossler’s duo album, Versus.
Rosenboom’s playing often reminds me of Peter Evans, each of them deftly uses a variety of techniques to express a range of emotions. Reclamation seems very much like a personal journey for each member, one that maps quite well onto the experience of the majority of Americans, as we enter into this most unbelieveable year of 2017. Everything is cacophonic, and weekly threats on freedom and safety amplify the collective emotional response. Sometimes, you need a loud, stomping, raucous outlet. And Reclamation delivers loud, stomping, raucous playing that ends appropriately with “Revolution,” 2:30 of note-perfect, head-banging joy.
If, like me, you’ll be in the LA area on October 5, come see Burning Ghosts at Angel City Jazz Fest’s Metal Jazz Night.
Available from Tzadik