I AM, “Omniscient (Mycelium)” (Division 81)
If you want more proof that we're in a boom time for adventurous jazz (primarily emanating from Chicago, New York, and London, although Seattle's no slouch in this department), then direct your ears toward I AM, the Windy City duo of woodwinds player Isaiah Collier and drummer Michael Shekwoaga Ode. You know you're in for something extraordinary with the first track on I AM's Beyond, an 11-minute ritual called “Introduction: Take Me Beyond.” Featuring the fervid proclamations, gong hits, didgeridoo, and Tibetan singing bowls of poet/sound healer Jimmy Chan, the piece eventually folds in Collier's Hulusi flute and sopranino sax, adding to the incense-intensive air of shamanism.
From there, I AM engage in fiery battles of rolling and tumbling drums and upper-register sax whirlwinds, some late-era John Coltrane-esque bravado. This is bruising sparring by musicians for whom catharsis is paramount. During the craziest bits of “Bend of the Universe (Trust With All Your Heart),” I feared that Collier was going to burst a blood vessel in his forehead. I AM's high-energy interplay is exhilarating to the max, and I can imagine fans of noisy, aggressive rock embracing Beyond. It's also astounding to realize that I AM recorded this album in one night. (Division 81 releases it on June 10.)
“Omniscient (Mycelium)” is the closest I AM come to a funky groove on Beyond, but because they refuse to do anything conventionally, the beats smack with an oblique, glancing impact. Over these splayed slaps, Collier blows triumphal sax arabesques of dazzling power and cyclical mesmerism. They ratchet up the intensity as they proceed over the song's nine minutes, until you feel as if you've been in the ring with peak-era Mike Tyson. The emergence of I AM on the world stage makes the imminent breakup of Sons of Kemet a little easier to take.
Jeff Greinke, “Of the Deep Sea” (Spotted Peccary)
Now based in Tucson, Arizona, former Seattle ambient/experimental musician Jeff Greinke continues to create engrossing electronic music, as his latest album, the digital-only Noctilucent, attests. The title accurately reflects the nature of these nine tracks, as they emit a nighttime glow that's subtly mysterious. It's also apropos that Greinke holds a degree in meteorology, because his music vividly evokes rich atmospheres that imperceptibly shift and exert a subliminal force on one's mood.
While Greinke's output mostly dwells in the ambient realm, he has ventured into more percussive idioms, as evidenced by his 1992 collaboration with Rob Angus, Crossing Ngoli. On that record, the two musicians found rich seams of enigmatic, ritualistic hypnosis in the vein of Jon Hassell's Fourth World Music and Can's Ethnological Forgery series. (I also highly recommend the releases of Greinke's defunct Seattle-based group Land, who fused world music, jazz, progressive rock, and electronic music in ingenious ways.)
Inspired by his desert walks in Tucson, Noctilucent is much more serene than Crossing Ngoli, to put it lightly. It's more of an early-morning or late-night experience—something to ease you into the day, or an aid to help you chill enough to get some shut-eye. This is not damning the record with faint praise; these two functions are among the most important to high quality-of-life standards. In these regards, Noctilucent occupies a similar role as Brian Eno and Steve Roach's deepest ambient works. That being said, much of Noctilucent could score an art-house mystery film or a documentary about the secret life of plants.
“Of the Deep Sea” stands as one of Noctilucent's most interesting pieces. Its serrated purrs, distant rumbles, and extended bell tones cohere into a richly detailed, dark-ambient masterpiece. It proves that 40 years into his musical career, Greinke is still finding rewarding ways to keep beatless music fascinating.
Jeff Greinke performs with Rob Angus at Chapel Performance Space on Sat June 4, 8 pm.