In a stylistic departure for Cuneiform, here we have an album of full-on in your face power trio music, albeit anchored to the Washington DC’s label’s traditions by a strong jazz sensibility, this time in the form of jazz-rock.
Dylan Ryan is the drummer/composer, with a background in No Wave, avant rock and free jazz, and here he is joined by feisty guitar strangler Timothy Young who has played with all manner of folk including Rufus Wainwright and Bill Frisell. On bass we have Devin Hoff, who has recently teamed up with Yoko Ono and Julia Holter. Together the trio make an indie-jazz-rock hybrid that calls on all influences from Dinosaur Jr to David Torn and all points in between.
Released last October, this is the trio’s second album and second on Cuneiform. It was composed by Ryan while on tour with another band, Rainbow Arabia, and follows hot on the heels of the 2013 debut, Sky Bleached. Written in the typical tour locations of van, hotel, etc, with the aid of the modern muso’s implement of choice Pro Tools, the result sounds free and loose, almost improvised, while still being obviously composed, and it is executed with consummate skill by the three amigos. The PR sheet has this to say on the evolution of the album: “The impetus behind the record, Ryan claims, was a week he spent during this tour living in a Cretan cave on the shores of the Libyan Sea, playing until sunrise with a group of Greek hippies absolutely obsessed with Deep Purple, endowed with refreshments and ‘the oddest of meters’.” It sounds entirely feasible, although you’d be hard pushed to hear Deep Purple in here!
Opener Trees, Voices, Saturn is a fiery jazz-rocker that brings to mind a youthful Ollie Halsall jamming with Rory Gallagher, no doubt grooving in that Cretan cave with a Pict. A thoroughly coruscating start, and a box ticker for all jazz-blues guitar heads. The following track Possession melds that jazzy groove to the Dinosaur Jr indie rock grungerama with no little aplomb.
Big riffs and avant twists and turns call up images of Hüsker Dü and The Melvins, but all the while the guitar returns to a subtle lyricism that shines a light through the languorously fuggy sonic murk. Tim Young can go from being Bob Mould to Hendrix playing Angel within the space of a few bars and it all works perfectly.
Bassist Devin Hoff sometimes resorts to an upright bass, heard to great effect on the dreamy Pink Noir, alternating from the contrapuntal to a walking bass line, while Tim noodles away somewhere up in the firmament, but with a sharp focus on the song. Dylan Ryan’s drum style is unobtrusive, but plays an important part in the ensemble-melody.
Keith Jarrett’s rocking Mortgage On My Soul allows Tim to indulge in big love for the wah-wah pedal and the whammy bar, as he swoops and soars all over it like a keen-eyed vulture, while Dylan crashes and clatters behind him to great effect.
There are three group compositions on the album, tracks 7, 9, and 10. The first of these is Slow Sculpture, a piece of rock-jazz drifting in an eerie space, perfectly transforming into the skitterish and precise angles of Low Fell, recalling early Groundhogs records. The ensemble playing on Circa is second to none, and makes it all sound effortless – obviously, it isn’t. What it is however is great fun, a word you wouldn’t necessarily always associate with the occasionally rather studious Cuneiform label. Circa is a must for all fans of raw guitar trios, particularly followers of Moonjune Records, who seem to specialise in this kind of thing.
01. Trees, Voices, Saturn (4:33)
02. Possession (4:36)
03. Sledge Tread (2:04)
04. Visionary Fantasy (4:38)
05. Pink Noir (4:34)
06. Mortgage On My Soul (4:06)
07. Slow Sculpture (3:17)
08. Low Fell (5:08)
09. Night Sea Journey (1:54)
10. Raw Rattle (3:04)
Total Time – 38:08
Dylan Ryan – Drums
Timothy Young – Guitar
Devin Hoff – Bass
Record Label: Cuneiform Records
Catalogue#: Rune 397
Year Of Release: 2014