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Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Temple of Enthusiasm – Temple of Enthusiasm: The Bridge Sessions 14 (The Bridge, 2022)

By Nick Ostrum

Temple of Enthusiasm is a recent release from the Franco-American cooperative, The Bridge. It features a uniquely configured ensemble - Marvin Tate (voice, poetry), Gerrit Hatcher (tenor saxophone), Erwan Keravec (bagpipes), Gaspar Claus (cello, electronics) and Lia Kohl (cello) - and consists of a single 40-minute track, ' Missing Stairs.'

'Missing Stairs' begins with an extended droning cello intro. Five-and-a-half minutes in a spirited voice breaks in, shouting on loop “Pack your bags and get the fuck out of here,” then, in a nod to Sun Ra, “It’s after the end of the world. Don’t they know that yet.” Soon after, Tate, the vocalist here, turns more terrestrial and, presumably in a nod to the late Lorretta Lynn’s The End of the World, chants “I wake up in the morning and I wonder why.” Tate continues pulling phrases from here and there, much of which I am sure I am missing. But, that very fleetingness, the caught and missed references, reflects the hinted and fragmented melodies that float in and out of perception. Some sound so familiar, but do not linger long enough to place them.

Most unfamiliar, yet also so fitting, are Keravec’s bagpipes. Sometimes they blend, often enough into Hatcher’s sax-lines. They truly come into their own, however, when layered atop Claus’ synthesized organ hums. This shows its real strength not just in its crescendos, but in the milder moments, such as that around 9:30 in, when these ringing layers and Kohl’s and Claus’s cellos fall into an organ-like drone over which Tate speaks, “I wake up in the morning and you’re not there/I hear your voice calling from another dimensions/Be Brave/Be Vulnerable/Be Foolish/Be You.” I am not sure what Tate is referencing here, or imagining, but it at least speaks of loss, survival and perseverance. And it is surprisingly and plangently effective for music like this. Eleven minutes in Hatcher starts to stride, playing a smokey tenor, over a calm, repeating walking cello melody. Then come high pitched sirens and scratchy strings. Tate continues reciting his alternately lamentatious and affirming Sprechgesang/street-preacher-shout homily, constantly riffing on borrowed phrases (“to be young gifted and black/that’s where it’s at/and that’s a fact,” “soul power/power to the people/power to the movement,” “Give me that old time religion…that’s good enough for me,”) in a manner that sounds both deliberate and free associative. This does not sound like hip-hop, but that style of verbal assemblage still comes through. Through it all, Hatcher’s sax, Keravec’s quavering bagpipes, Claus (whose electronics swell at the 20-minute crescendo) and Kohl’s wailing cello are relentless in their soundmaking. Although much of Missing Stairs plays with drones, the complementary cellos and Hatcher’s sax puncture the fog and periodically pull the piece in softer, chamber-styled directions.

There is so much to unpack in this recording. It demands repeated listens. And, taken with some other recent releases - Fred Moten, Brandon López and Gerald Cleaver’s Moten/Lopez/Cleaver from last year and anything Irreversible Entanglements has put out – one gets the sense a Black Arts resurgence is under way, wherein poetry collides with free jazz (might I add, with bagpipes!), spitting trenchant social commentary, disjointed reflections on consumerist and popular media cultures and an almost postmodern cut-and-paste recontextualization of older forms and snippets that breathe new life into them, a life that reflects our accelerated, soundbite, uncertain modernity. As Tate proposes about 32-minutes in, in one of the peaks, “You never know happiness/you never know the person sitting right next to you/You never know/But it’s alright/Everything, everything gonna be alright…All you gotta do is keep on believing.” Believe in what? He does not say, as his narration spills over into a courtroom scenario, per Tate, in defense of “a victim of circumstances…a victim of accumulated bullshit.” But maybe there is something to that faith in art and some sort of temporal justice down the line. Who knows? No I. I do know, however, that this is a powerful and timely recording of a hell of a live performance.

Temple of Enthusiasmis available as a CD and download on Bandcamp: