Steve Raegele: Last Century (2010)
Montreal guitarist Steve Raegele's debut, Last Century, with bassist Miles Perkin and drummer Thom Gossage, marks the beginning of a career that will, no doubt, be looked back upon despite being disregarded at this stage. The album doesn't mark Raegele's launching point, however, but the due reward of a turbulent turning point, as the guitarist has abandoned his role as lead guitarist for indie rock band, The Besnard Lakes, to seek more autonomy and creative freedom. Raegele has since played with many local greats, and he's been a devoted member of Thom Gossage's project Other Voices, where the trio has acted as rhythm section within a larger ensemble since 2005.
This is a wonderful trio, with an exhilarating level of interplay and exchange. The playing is clear, innovative and dynamic, and possesses an infectious nervousness not a jittery, over-caffeinated uneasiness, but the snappy, edgy alertness of people fully engrossed in the moment. Acting. Reacting. Feeding off one another.
For Last Century, Raegele takes the lead and provides the subject matter. The result is not exactly post-bop or modal jazz, but possesses elements of jazz- rock, as well as progressive and psychedelic rock and dabs of avant-garde with hints of the free. Is originality ever fully classifiable into preexisting styles?
Simply, the result is a discussion worth partaking in; three comfortably good friends talking music through music. It's about identity and self-expression; it's about interaction; it's about creation; but it's also about banality and futility and so it's mostly about being human, and about being Steve Raegele, and about Thom Gossage and Miles Perkin being themselves being Steve. It's about dedicated artists offering up honest bits of themselves.
One thing is clear: this album is also about what it doesn't offer specifically, melody. The tunes are atmospheric and moody, lending themselves to a cliché like "an exploration of melody through rhythm and harmony," for there is a technical side to all the songs, allowing melody to rise out of Raegele's playful mastery over time and spacehe makes it clear that he's not just a gifted guitarist, he's also an attention-worthy composer.
The compositions are well-laid out, varied but not eclectic, inviting the active deciphering and construction of the associations that allow them to be. Citing Jim Hall, John Abercrombie, and Bill Frisell as references becomes redundant upon hearing Raegele"Stop Short" almost seeming like an homage to the latter two. Despite the clear parallels, he is none of these players; he has his own language, but like them Raegele knows his limitations, and focuses on his strengths. Rather than attempting to wow with speed, cushy grooves, and catchy riffs, Raegele focuses on placement, technique, and careful phrasing.
Last Century is a very mature album from a relatively young voice. By adding Steve Raegele to their albeit limited but incredibly discerning and great sounding offerings, Songlines Recordings has made what should prove to be a wise long-term investment: a career worth looking back on.
Track Listing: Last Century; Δ (Sisyphus); Janet Jackson; Stop Short; Δ (Daedalus); The Opposite; Δ (Hercules); Verdun; Fight Club the Rabbit; Pareidolia; Δ (Bacchus).
Personnel: Steve Raegele: electric guitar; Miles Perkin: acoustic bass; Thom Gossage: drums, kalimba.