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Jeffrey Roden: Bridge to the Other Place

img  Tobias Fischer

Fervor can express itself in many different shapes: Despite his quiet style, Los-Angeles-based Jeffrey Roden, for example, has certainly praised the virtues of the Bass as passionately as a rock star. In fact, through years of utmost dedication and reflection, he has, in a way, become one with his instrument, to the point where, on his website, his professional CV has been replaced by a detailed description of his aesthetic philosophy towards it. It is a process ardently documented in his releases, most of them published on his small personal label, the big tree: While his three first full-lengths hypnotically revolved around a core of ultra-discrete Electronica (the influence of his Sound Art-affiliated relative Steve) and nocturnal Jazz (Roden  holds a reverential admiration towards Miles Davis' „Sketches of Spain“), he only found complete artistic fulfillment only after breaking away from established genres completely and channeling his vision through nothing but the deep, blissful frequencies of his sonorous partner. The outcome, a two-pronged cycle called „Seeds of Happiness“, exhibited a music of peaceful power and intimate intensity, revealing itself with absolute precision: For the hour of its duration, the eternal dream of saying everything there is to say with as little words as possible came true.

Roden's current work takes that process to its logical conclusion, further stripping his compositions down to the bone: Already all but completed in autumn of 2008, most of the material was concertedly reworked after an eye-opening performance at the New Albion Festival. Reading through the liner notes of the new full-length, words like „focus“ and „discipline“ catch one's eye, testimony to a continuous search for essence and purity. His declared intention of „leaving the many possibilities to the listener and their imagination“ is part of a seemingly simple yet important realisation: The less sounds one uses, the more meaning is awarded to each – and the more the silence between them grows animated and expressive. At the same time, even though this will likely only become apparent through minute attention, the album is one of great ambition and can, its minimal orchestration notwithstanding, actually be considered a grand, all-embracing statement. Roden suggests as much when he advises his audience to regard the piece as an interconnected entity: Behind a wall of tenderness and silence hides a portal to a majestic world of minimal means and colossal implications.

For what appears to be nothing but a collection of one- to two-minute short miniatures turns out be an intricate journey held together by a string of recurring and transforming themes. The Leitmotif in this regard is presented straight at the outset in opener „vigil“, as an ascending row of six tones. Unspectacular as it may seem at first, it will return in a full eleven of the twenty five tracks, each occurrence marked by slight differences in pitch, rhythmic accent or melodic arch. As the album progresses, this bridge-row takes on the function of a map, indicating to the listener by means of its current form how far he has proceeded in the narrative. By strategically transposing certain notes, Roden is capable of presenting the same idea in different emotional states, creating the notion of spiritual elevation.

It is a thought further supported by the fact that a collection of dramatically darker inventions counterpoints the development in what can be regarded as a struggle for truth and beauty. A turning point in this quest is marked by „one voice imagining“. Dividing the album in two equally sized halves and, at a comparably epic five minutes' length, the piece constitutes a meditative oasis. It is almost as if Roden were stepping back from the plot for one short instant and granting himself and his audience a new beginning. Shortly afterwards, the bridge-theme returns in its full shape and keeps growing in strength until, in „mercy and resolution“, it attains its most proud and lyrical appearance.

Through this process, Roden has managed to achieve two goals, mostly considered mutually exclusive, at the same time. On the one hand, track titles like „fanfare for the traveler“, „steps in deliberation“ or „vision of the complete“ clearly hint at a conceptual angle. On the other, the result can nonetheless be enjoyed on purely musical terms alone. The more one listens, the more dense the brushwood of connections grows, enveloping listeners in a cloud of peace, calm and tranquility – it is by no means a coincidence that Roden refers to the work as a continuous „moment“ rather than a „movement“ in the liner notes, pointing to the fact that everything one here experiences could just as well be passing through the mind of a pilgrim in a single moment of enlightenment.

Most of all, however, one is struck by the seeming effortlessness of it all, which appears to contradict the strictness and concentration invested in the music. And yet, there is no paradox at work. What are „focus“ and „discipline“, after all, but methods to attain utmost clarity and ease? The journey is far more than the reward here: Once you've made it to the bridge and music has given way to silence, any remaining polarities dissolve into a chorus of bliss and happiness, in which deep, blissful frequencies and the afterglow of sound build into a momentous wave of inwardly expanding fervor.

Homepage: Jeffrey Roden / The Big Tree Music

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