Anteloper, “One Living Genus” (International Anthem)
The avant-jazz powerhouse label International Anthem's long winning streak continues with Anteloper, the Chicago duo of trumpeter jaimie branch and drummer Jason Nazary, who both also deploy synthesizers. Anteloper's greatness first materialized on 2018's Kudu. That album forged a deconstructed and exultant strain of electronic jazz, a kind of Cubist take on Miles Davis's Bitches Brew that at times edged into bizarre illbient territory. It's one of the more adventurous debut full-lengths of the last five years. (By the way, you also need branch's two excellent Fly or Die albums and Anteloper's Tour Beats Vol. 1.)
The new follow-up album, Pink Dolphins (out June 17 on International Anthem), goes even harder into martial defiance mode. But for as rugged as Nazary's beats are, branch ensures that eerie beauty tints the air above the rhythmic turbulence, with help from Chicago heavyweights Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground Trio, etc.). Fans of French experimental-fusion iconoclasts Lard Free will dig the radical conflagrations of weird electronic timbres and jagged rhythms flaunted on Pink Dolphins. The record's biggest anomaly occurs on “Earthlings,” on which branch sings a bittersweet lament over a staticky blues shuffle. Her vulnerably pretty vocals come as a surprise in contrast to her usual boisterous and agitational trumpet playing.
“One Living Genus” (in this video, it's pared down to 8:44 from its nearly 15-minute album duration) is an odd but bold choice for lead single. The track initially sounds like phantasmal space rock playing at 16 rpm; it's irradiated with cosmic synth emissions, powered by Nazary's stoned beats, and dosed by Parker's pensive, cyclical guitar motif. When branch's mellow, muted-trumpet melisma wafts in after the five-minute mark, Anteloper gently remind us that jazz is back on the menu, albeit immersed in an alien atmosphere. This strategy lifts “One Living Genus” into genius territory. (On the album version, the track continues to drone for six more minutes in a manner at once palliative and unsettling.)
Noel Brass Jr.- “Subliminal Sand Cat” (self-released)
Every day on Instagram, Seattle keyboardist Noel Brass Jr. (Afrocop, Select Level) presents stories that reveal him capturing inspiration on his instruments in (sur)real time. These fragments presumably end up in some form in tracks found on his Bandcamp page, which bestows hours of ambient bliss filtered through an avant-gardist soul-jazzman's outward-bound sensibilities.
You can hear some of Brass's most honed and beautiful ideas on Broken Cloud Orchestra, released in 2017 on Wax Thématique and for which I wrote liner notes. In those, I observed that “Brass strives for a sort of sacred stillness in his compositions, achieving an ambient penumbra that's as translucent as it is transcendent.” Five years later, he's still on that righteous path to enlightenment and mental peace.
The latest in a burgeoning stream of pieces Brass has released this year, “Subliminal Sand Cat” enigmatically glows, sparkles, and drones in the sanctified 4 am comedown zone from a gentle acid trip. The track performs that neat trick where on the surface it seems static, but in actuality it's full of intriguing activity and surprising movement. Listening to this too-short piece, fans of Brian Eno's Neroli, Harold Budd's “Bismillahi 'Rrahmani 'Rrahim,” and Miles Davis's “Shhh Peaceful” should feel tingles of tranquil pleasure. That being said, anyone with a desire to chill in the most exalted manner possible and who is not familiar with the aforementioned landmark works should be able to find succor in “Subliminal Sand Cat.”
Don your best headphones, recline on your most comfortable furniture, close your eyes, and leave this doomed planet way behind. You're welcome.