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Splice: Lab

img  Tobias Fischer

As much as I would like to make some pretentious pronouncements – like how jazz that includes electro-acoustic elements only highlights the deficiencies of both areas, or how the last thing in the world we need to have right now is another horrible electro/jazz band – I can’t in good conscious do so (or at least without looking like a total prick). It certainly wouldn’t be fair to the fine musicians of Splice, whose own experiments in the fusion of electro acoustic and jazz on their album Lab are too interesting to shrug off into the bin of failed experiments. Maybe it would be more accurate and safe to say that it’s just goddamn hard to do this fusion thing right.

Thankfully, one of the things Splice does do right on Lab is that they don’t try to shoehorn the electronic textures into their pieces. This can be heard to best effect on “Caffeinated Drinks,” where puffs of an electronically-treated trumpet from Alex Bonney float over David Smith‘s skittering drums, and Robin Finker’s saxophone tremors to eventually coalesce over electronic hum from Pierre Alexandre Tremblay on bass guitar and electronics. There’s an attention to how these pieces fit and the allowance for sounds to breathe. On “Debris,” low tones, treated drum sounds, and sax/trumpet drones rise and sink like feathers in a light breeze as Smith‘s drums emerge subtly, sparingly keeping time in a mass of swirling electric eddies. Beautiful.

Of course, it can’t all be slow motion electronic drift. On “Cortège,” Finker, sounding like a less antiseptic Evan Parker, pulls out atonal serpentine lines on his tenor before switching gears to a haunting melody that floats over bass-heavy, nourish dirge. Or the rock and sci-fi funk of “Matter,” that rings of some of Ken Vandermark’s compositional forays, while still keeping a distinct textural palette and attention to space that’s all their own. However, if anything Lab reminds me of another Chicago group, Grey Ghost, who also melded flowing themes with often electronic back bones.

Of course, it doesn’t always hold together, as on “Sillon Fermé,” where Tremblay’s electronically-filtered bass seems aimless as the rest of the band tries periodically to burst into flame, but achieving nothing more than a sputter. Not to mention “Interlude” which is just that – an interlude; or the “The Mess,” that, despite fine playing from Smith, doesn’t seem to go anywhere at all. Thankfully, these missteps are again countered with good compositions-- “The Wanderer” rides an Arabic tinge into the darkness-- a nighttime slither across an endless sea of sand. And “Luna Verde” hangs on a beautiful drifting melody that emerges from white noise buzz until slowly turning up the heat for a satisfying boil, thanks in large part to the powerful drumming of Smith and the bass riffing of Tremblay.

While the inclusion of electro acoustic textures in jazz is not new, from Otomo Yoshihide’s experiments with electro acoustic big band jazz to Sei Miguel’s more aery electro-jazz fusions, it’s doesn’t appear that Lab partakes in some obvious EAI jazz lineage. And if Lab doesn’t entirely succeed for me, there’s enough on the album that bodes very well for Splice in the future, and makes any grand pronouncements of what should and should not be done look, if not prickish, then wrong-headed.

By Tanner Servoss

Homepage: Splice
Homepage: Loop Records

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