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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Two from the Brandon Lopez Trio

By Keith Prosk

Since we’ve reviewed some of his solos and Whit Dickey Trio’s Expanding Light earlier in the year, the prolific bassist Brandon Lopez has continued to produce exciting material at a quick clip. The solos the sodom salt and STGM continue the expressive arco explorations of violent starts at the tongue andquoniam facta sum vilis. The solo what ends and the duo lopezlopez document forays into electric guitar. And then there’s the supergroup with Joe McPhee, Dave Rempis, Tomeka Reid, and Paal Nilssen-Love making magic on Of Things Beyond Thule. But here I focus on two releases from the working group to which Lopez has decided to attach his name, with Gerald Cleaver on drums and Steve Baczkowski on winds. These are the first recordings from this configuration, despite playing together for a few years, though Lopez’ longstanding relationship with Cleaver can be heard on The Industry of Entropy and with Baczkowski on Old Smoke .

Brandon Lopez Trio - Triptych (self-released, 2020) ***½

Triptych is a breezy listen at 18 minutes across three tracks. The swaying, pointillistic free form that begins “SAMAEL” quickly locks in to a relaxed repetitive rhythm reminiscent of Al Cisneros and Chris Hakius’ OM, with fragile high-register plucking filling a deep bass metronome accompanied with cymbal splashes, overlaid by a tinny, almost electric shawm sound. The sound and mood paired with titles and cover art referencing religious iconography (common across many Lopez releases) places this in a similar camp as the eastern-tinged meditative psychedelia of the aforementioned OM and turn-of-the-millenium Roy Montgomery. “KALI” continues a feeling of rock meets jazz as Cleaver jackhammers his set like a black metal drummer before going free, while Lopez plucks a martial, galloping bassline and Baczkowski flits through a collage of motifs on his shawm in a kind of freakout. The feeling fades to a more jazzy tone on “DEATH,” with Baczkowski blowing hard on what is more obviously a (baritone?) saxophone, Cleaver creating a barrage of accents from every drum, and Lopez resorting to a common technique for him of hard plucking a couple notes followed by a falling flurry. The communication between Cleaver and Lopez is obvious, and the aesthetics of Baczkowski and Lopez are matched well. The building blocks for a distinctive music are here, but it’s in danger of becoming “traditional” free jazz. The rhythm section is exactly that, and often static for some time, and the winds can seem flighty and uncomfortable with empty space or low volume. Perhaps most disappointing of all is that Lopez cordons off so many of the techniques and timbral avenues explored in his solo work, often achieved through arco, deciding to play all plucked lines. And whereas the pizzicato in his solo work can be lyrical like a Barre Phillips or a Richard Davis, here he sticks to rhythmic utility. Still, this is a highly recommended free jazz recording not just for fans of the musicians involved, but also for those with an itch for the spirit of the previously mentioned rock bands and maybe someone like Arrington de Dionyso.

Triptych is a digital-only release.

Lopez 4tet - Diptych (self-released, 2020) ***½

Diptych is another short release, at 15 minutes across two tracks, with the trio joined by Cecilia Lopez on electronics. The music from the trio is expectedly similar to Triptych. The majority of “STEELY DAB” features a static rhythm section over which Baczkowski whines, whomps, and flutters in that tinny timbre, while Cecilia morphs bleeps and bloops (which seem unusually warm for electronics) to nearly mimic Baczkowski’s action. The track evolves to see Brandon move to a more lyrical, circular rather than linear bassline while Cleaver mixes in some hard-hitting snare, over which Baczkowski caws; unfortunately, as the trio gains some exciting momentum, they seem to drown out Cecilia’s offerings. The brief “JUDITH” continues the rock/metal mood of Triptych’s “SAMAEL” and “KALI,” featuring heavy distortion swashes from Cecilia and a heavy, plodding two notes from Brandon over which Baczkowski wails. It’s certainly a sister release to Triptych, and while I don’t feel the electronic contributions to “STEELY DAB” necessarily advance the group’s aesthetic, those on “JUDITH” certainly do, serving a similar purpose as a stoner or drone doom guitar.

Diptych is a digital-only release.

Despite my criticisms of these releases, they’re mining a fun, rich vein of modern jazz/rock psychedelia in which I hear not only OM, Roy Montgomery, or Arrington de Dionyso, but also maybe Ex Eye, Guardian Alien, and that video overlaying John Coltrane with Sunn O))) , and they’re refreshingly beginning at a jazz perspective rather than a rock one.


B. said...

Hey Keith,

Appreciate the review, as always.

There were issues with the recordings for Triptych, mainly bleed from shoddy isolation of the bass mic, a broken bow... ETC. Both these recordings weren't intended for release (as are most of my online only material), but I had to, somehow, scratch out a living due to loss of work for obvious reasons (the sales REALLY helped). I'd call these recordings factory seconds (Haha!)

Let me know the next time you plan on reviewing something and I'll make sure to get you the good stuff.

-Brandon L

Keith said...

Thanks so much, Brandon! Will do.

Hope you're doing as well as you can and staying safe.