Shibui – Shibui

This is why I go interwebbing:

I inhabit several Worlds. In one, which I shall call Reality 1.0, I am a Stick Player. Through that FaceTube I know a Boston-based Stickist called Josh Goldberg. Occasionally Josh sends me the heads-up on new music. I also like to watch Family Guy and I’ve visited Boston… albeit the one in Lincolnshire, U.K. so naturally, with such very strong links to the commonwealth, Stick, Family Guy; I am the first choice for anyone in Massachusetts to bring the World’s attention to a new Boston-based ensemble: Shibui.

“Shibui (渋い) (adjective)” is a word that “refers to a particular aesthetic of simple, subtle, and unobtrusive beauty. Like other Japanese aesthetics terms, such as iki and wabi-sabi, shibui can apply to a wide variety of subjects, not just art or fashion”.

Thank you, Wikipedia.

In another conjoined reality, Reality 1.5, I am an on-line “journalist”, writing album reviews. These tie up quite well. This means that I can post words here, in The Progressive Aspect, about the new music.

In Reality 2.0 I am living in a place called “Kent” and working as an IT Manager for a language school in the mythical city of Canterbury. I much prefer the other realities.

This is an interesting album. It sometimes fails to touch me on any deep emotional level, yet I still find it immensely enjoyable. I’ve listened to it intently. I also put it on and did other things, my attention dipping in and out, trying to analyse it, wondering how the patterns will evolve. Funny that we should use the word “evolve” to describe music, isn’t it? Sometimes music seems to take on a life of its own.

Of course, music is not a living organism and sounds are just vibrations in the air. But like life, music is created and does evolve. We sometimes hear it in a song, as our favourite bands go through their life cycle and sometimes in a musical revolution… like Rock’n’Roll. Sometimes we can even witness parallel evolution. That’s why we can say: “ooh, that sounds like…” when what we really mean is “that reminds me of…”. Sometimes music evolves within a single song, without fuss, as if a little woodwind or added percussion here or there might help the creature survive and retain our attention. The creature that is Track 2, 1.5, is such a beast.

What should you expect from Shibui? The metadata on their album says, “Contemporary Jazz”. This said, Shibui certainly aren’t your clichéd piano, double-bass, piano trio. Neither are they a five-piece guitar/bass/drums/keyboard/vocals jazz-rock ensemble. Bassist and composer Tim Doherty has brought together some polyrhythmic musical structures and a predominantly six-member ensemble with additional quintet of strings. This combination of talents has resulted in music that continually seems to support this idea of musical evolution and fits my own personal idea of Progressive Music.

From the off, then, you’re not going to be bombarded by guitar-hand-gymnastics or crazy trumpet solos. This is cleverly composed music played by skilled musicians and there’s no need for overt showing off. There’s complexity in the interaction between the sounds and the rhythms, not with some ego driven soloing. This appeals to me. What is the point of being able to play 27 notes per second if the result isn’t musical?

Apart from the music being obviously instrumental, their choice of instrumentation and reliance on interweaving rhythmical progressions leads me to comparisons with artists who don’t operate within the established Rock’n’Roll or Jazz idioms. You might draw comparison with Philip Glass. This music, I’d guess, also evolved out of the use of similar building blocks; melody and polyrhythm and chamber music and strings and woodwind and subtlety. Strip away the rhythm and you might compare it with other avant-garde, ambient or experimental music. Parallel musical evolution [Pretentious? Moi?].

I sometimes wonder why bands come up with their song names. Not when there’s lyrical content, as this is usually obvious, but when there’s no lyrical content. Sometimes it is onomatopoeic. For example, Truck by The Fierce And The Dead, is what a truck would be, were it music. Perhaps I’m too literal, as I’m often left wondering how a piece of music, undoubtedly fine though it is, evokes association with, say, an albatross or saying goodbye to a pork pie hat. Now, Jazzists may be all too aware of the significance of this title, but in my ignorance I Googled it. In fact, Mingus’s tune is a tribute to a lost friend. A beautiful sentiment. But there’s nothing in the title and no lyric that says goodbye or conjures up images of recent bereavement or mourning had you been unaware of his loss. I was once co-author of a piece of music called Tobleraubergine, but the music was neither chocolaty nor vegetably. Nor good. Once again, my ignorance has let me down, but still… instrumental titles, eh?

Mercifully, I am spared the embarrassment of revealing the scope of my dullardry with Shibui [EDITOR: Good job you didn’t type all that out loud] as their music is given numbers, in the format n.n, leading me to the conclusion that on the left-hand side of the point is the album number and on the right-hand side, the track number. They are not sequential. Perhaps the order was changed to make the album flow. This appeals to my own sense of logic and is a completely spurious assertion based on absolutely no insight whatsoever.

And there’s some splendid rhythm.

I have always been fascinated by rhythm. There’s something deeply satisfying in working out the time signatures of a piece and finding that, say, the piano is playing 5 to a bar and another instrument, perhaps marimba, is playing 3 to the bar and the two distinct patterns are interweaving and intersecting; creating one perfectly synchronised rhythm. It is all best explained with the old joke: 9/8; 17/16; 13/8 – These are difficult times. Despite this being more accurately explained with mathematics and sorcery there’s still something beautiful and mysterious about the process. There are also rather classical, benign and beautiful sounds being used to instil a sense of tension or unease or expectation or calm. You could put this on in the background and just chill to it or you could sit there and count beats and get caught up in it all. I think Shibui sounds good, whether it touches me on an emotional level or not.

Before you start with your accusations of “you like everything you review” let me tell you… I do this to bring music I get to hear and like to your attention and this short album fits the bill. You don’t have to take my word for it but as a fan of music if you invest your money and 35 minutes of your time then I think you might like this cracking little gem.

01. 1.3 (6:59)
02. 1.1 (5:10)
03. 1.5 (7:16)
04. 1.4 (6:21)
05. 1.2 (9:46)

Total Time – 35:32

Tim Doherty – Bass, Composition
Bradley Goff – Piano, Rhodes
Céline Ferro – Clarinet, Bass Clarinet
Kyle Harris – Drums
Derek Hayden – Marimba, Glockenspiel
Curtis Hartshorn – Percussion, Glockenspiel
~ With:
Daniel Pelletier – Marimba (on 1.1)
Greg Jukes – Marimba (on 1.3 & 1.4, Glockenspiel (on 1.4)
Abigale Reisman – Violin (on 1.2)
Strings on 1.3:
Chris Baum – Violin
Dan Lay – Violin
Nathan Cohen – Viola
Ben Swartz – Cello
Piano intro on 1.1 written by Taylor Kirkwood

Record Label: Independent
Recorded at: The Record Company, Boston MA, by Jamie Rowe
Mix: Ben Levin
Mastering: Randy Roos at Squam Sound
Album artwork: Chris Anderson
Design: Peter Danilchuk
Date of Release: 7th September 2018

Shibui – Facebook | Bandcamp