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CD Feature/ Jeffrey Roden: "Seeds of Happiness"

img  Tobias

What is perfection? I remember well hearing “Seeds of Happiness Part 1” for the fist time almost two years ago and the way the last deep reverberation slowly faded into silence. For a moment, there and then, I was sure I had found perfection and I thought I had discovered its key: honesty. There was not a milimeter’s worth of distance between Jeffrey Roden and his work, behind these twelve short solo bass pieces  there was no mystery, scheme or science, but only himself. Like a soul-searching onion peeling, he had stripped his music down over the course of three albums to the naked flesh, the bare bones, the places where the hurt hid and true joy began. Now there was only him and his instrument and the will to take things as far as need be. The fact that even some experienced reviewers confused it for an exercise in technique took nothing away from that. Already then, it was always clear that a second album was on its way, continuing the spirit of the first one. Released on “New Albion”, one of the leading labels for new music in America as a “twofer” (with both disc combined on one) , it is sure to get the attention it deserves. And in musical terms , too, it’s been more than wort the wait.

So many similarities, so many differences!

Considering the setup is exactly the same as in 2005 (down to the production team of John Potoker and Steve Roden), it is amazing how familar and yet unexpected this effort has turned out to be: So many similarities, so many differences! Again, the entire album was recorded on a single day in a Hollywood sound studio and again it’s only Roden and his bass, using merely a couple of overdubs. What has changed is the absence of any on-the-spot improvised solos and the almost total exclusion of stylistic allusions to Jazz which follows as a direct result. If you are looking for parallels, then you’ll rather find them in the visual arts, in calligraphy and the fine and yet determined lines of Japanese pencil scetches. While “Part 1” had a winter feeling to it, oscillating in tall waves and drawing the listener in with a deep and motherly embrace full of warmth and yet a certain inner tension, “Part 2” relates to the seasons of autumn and early spring, with brittle bass lines reaching into the bluishly-grey sky of the first album’s cover artwork. If, to you, perfection means not saying a word too much or playing a single not too many, then you have found your desert island record.

Each decision was correct.
Even though with the first episode already out there as a template, recording the second volume was decidedly easier, as Roden admits, the music has lost nothing of its bipolar character between dreamy somberness and hopeful optimism. What is so remarkable is that this is acchieved by very different means. “Part 1” forced you to listen, knocking on the doors of your perception until you would lay everything aside and devote your full attention to it. “Part 2”, meanwhile is both more directly accessible and yet more subtle - if played in the background, it almost fades away. Tracks hardly “close” any more, instead they tread forward carefully yet fully concentrated, never knowing beforehand which step will be the right one, only to discover afterwards that the decision taken was always correct, because it relied on “hearing the notes as they are being formed and propelled out into the world” instead of thinking. Just like life never tells you what is going to happen next, the miniatures of “Seeds of Happiness” are often left hanging in the air without a typical ending. Roden has refused to succumb to all expectations and relied entirely on the moment. It is this aspect which lends these pieces an urgency despite their serenity and calmness and which many will consider a sign of perfection, because they depict the world around us more precisely than an art which straightjackets everything into preconceived concepts.

A never-ending process.
The problem with these notions of perfection is that they are temporary and subjective. Just like trends and fads change over time, so will these theories and models of how things should be. And yet, just like Robert M. Pirsig justly claimed that quality was something everybody recognises when faced with it even if they couldn’t put it into words, “Seeds of Happiness Part 2” is more than just a record which feeds a current appetite. As Roden put it himself: Perfection is a process, it can exist and become a reality, when “all energy is focused upon each moment, each note throughout the process of creation”. It is here that I think, despite the composer’s own hesitation, that this album fulfills this ideal. For to sit quietly for one and a half years, spending your time with scetching, playing, improvising and composing, waiting for that one single day, that one chance you have to take those scribbles and notes on a piece of paper and turn them into something tangible and meaningful despite the constant danger of failure or deviation from that straight red line and then to grab that very chance and breath life into those ideas you were carrying around with you all that time and to create an object of beauty inside the superficial wall of a studio – what else could it be but perfection? And that is what Jeffrey Roden has done.Of course, this implies the proecess is never “over” or “completed” and “Part 3” is already on its way. But just for a moment, here and now, this is as good as it gets.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Jeffrey Roden
Homepage: New Albion Records

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