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Sunday, January 2, 2022

Borderlands Trio – Wandersphere (Intakt, 2021) ****½

By Anthony Simon

If I had access to a time machine, you betcha I’d consider going back and changing a few things – of course, weighing the benefits against the risks warned of in many sci-fi stories and films. But one thing I would not hesitate to do is add this album to my 2021 year-end list. It’s remarkable, and I just hadn’t had the opportunity to listen to it as closely as it deserved before the year drew to a close.

Wandersphere is the second album from Borderlands Trio, which comprises Stephan Crump on acoustic bass, Kris Davis on piano, and Eric McPherson on drums. Recorded in studio during December 2020, this double album features four pieces freely improvised by the collective, each ranging between 19 and 44 minutes in duration. This is music that takes its sweet time exploring the subtle nuance of patient and generous musical dialogue.

Each artist in this trio boasts an impressive résumé of awards and critical acclaim, and this is borne out in Wandersphere. Drummer Eric McPherson’s playing is masterfully delicate and sensitive, bassist Stephan Crump plays with a gravity of great warmth and clarity, and pianist Kris Davis brilliantly plays preparations to her piano that can make herself sound like multiple musicians simultaneously.

One of the standout features of these recordings is the abundance of openness and quietude. The sounds conjured in these creations soar in grand canyons of space. The listener can just stretch out and luxuriate in the vastness. The quality of the recording also rewards close attention to countless fine details. Though these artists wander in ways open and free, their paths also converge momentously in charming melodies and fascinating grooves, which feel like fun discoveries.

“An Invitation to Disappear” is the shortest track at just under twenty minutes. It begins with quietly dynamic pizzicato bass lines swimming in gently lapping waves of cymbal taps, later joined by a bright piano chord dropped into the mix and let ring until it completely dissipates. It feels massively spacious and richly textured, like the energy of an entire ocean mostly at rest. Energy slowly builds and at the 8-minute mark a naturally emerging groove swirls round and round like an eddy.

In the liner notes, Crump shares a perspective on this trio’s music – namely as a kind of “concentric orbiting.” If I understand properly, it’s as if each musician is circling a shared commonality, but in their own distinct orbit. This is eminently heard in the music. Often each musician seems to be simultaneously playing out their own unique sonic idea, repeating aspects of their motif as if to let it gestate and slowly grow -- but each idea may be quite different in rhythm or harmony. They don’t often follow each other in obvious ways, the relationship between their expressions can be intriguingly elusive.

“Old Growth” is the longest track at over 41 minutes. The listener can hear the concentric circling – sometimes it’s dancelike, or a frantic racing that becomes a charming strut, later a murmuring crisscross of harmonies and rhythms that fade into the quietest possible rustle from McPherson, like a breeze juggling leaves, and the hush of your own breath as you listen. Throughout, Crump plumbs the depths with mournful arco and tender grooves, and Davis stretches out – from thrilling runs to plaintive calls, from industrial buzz to fragile tings.

Here’s a live recording, to witness their fascinating communication in action:


Wandersphere is available for digital download.


Captain Hate said...

So much to listen to and so little time but Crump and Kris are two of my faves and when they stretch out good things happen.

Chris said...

Listening to this recent purchase as I post. Fabulous album, now I need to find their debut album.