While there are no fast rules or proven paths for developing a craft and career as an improvising musician, most players arrive at free playing and pure expression in the course of their development rather than starting their careers there. In other words, the artistic process leads more commonly to abstraction than it leads to formalism. (This can also be observed in the visual arts, with artists such as Mondrian and Kandinsky). That said, there is nothing more natural than for a novice to fool around and "just make sounds."
Like children, beginner instrumentalists learn by emulation and experimentation. What seems initially like useless noodling really does come in helpful in learning the intricacies of an instrument. But for upcoming professionals to begin their careers with abstraction is unusualand raises questions.
In his mid 20s, guitarist Ryan Blotnick is a developing talent still in the early stages of his career. Already at his second effort as a leader, he has so far demonstrated a wide knowledge of different genres and techniques. Although this is an achievement in itself, it nevertheless hides a hard fact: the arguable absence of a strong, unique voice. That said, what Blotnick lacks in singularity he makes up for in novelty. He exemplifies a new breed of players/composers who in their formative years were exposed to such diverse stimuli that the amassed information upturns the edification of the musical self.
Thanks to the democratizing nature of digital technology and the incorporation of the jazz curriculum into the mainstream educational system, 2009's young practitioners feel knowledgeable enough about the music's history to test its extremes and strive for holistic expression right from the start. Adventurous formats, extended compositions, uncommon instrumentation and the ubiquitous jumble of oddball influences are now the norm.
Impatient to launch in their solo careers, the idea of spending a few years as an apprentice alongside older musicians seems to be given less importance than finding gigs, collecting positive reviews and creating a name. As this phenomena shouldn't be decried, it does however appear contrary to the music's oral history (not to mention its forefathers' rather humble objectives of just "making the band.") Mind you, there is some truth to the axiom that innovatorsor true artists, to use one of music industry analyst Bob Lefsetz's favourite termsbenefit from a certain artistic apostasy and impermeability.
Everything Forgets is released a year after Music Needs You (Songlines, 2008). Its conception reveals the leader's conscious shift from the more mainstreamand, in retrospect, more upbeatatmosphere to a darker, more cutting edge approach. This time, the listener is thrown a mix of trippy, backbeat driven tunes, airy themes and tranquil yet modern compositions. The use of atmopsheric electronicsmost probably a result of Blotnick's part-time membership of the Scandinavian improvised music sceneis nonetheless quite subtle. Yet, while Music Needs You only but lightly touched on pathos, Everything Forgets dives right into it.
Devised as an extended suite with improvised interludes, dim ballads and gentle rubato sections, the disc succeeds in drawing the listener into a space that is simultaneously haunting and haunted. Be it during the slow, pounding beats of "Mansell," or the two pieces entitled "Mainstream," an ambience of gravity runs through the music. But "Sulphur, The Reins," with its dirge-like, elephant-esque bass march is the most extreme instance of the sombre and pathos-riddened affect that shrouds the program. And, those expecting a lighter affair out of "Funes The Memorious"at the image of its comedic honoreewill probably call out the decoy. A psychedelic montage of spirant, feedbacked guitar tones, sibilant effects and swelling bass notes, the six-minute piece, though poignant, carries with it a bleak, desolate feeling. That said, it is the most gripping piece herein. "Ballad For A Crumbling Infrastructure" and "Dark Matter (For Benoit Delbecq)" are both highly reminiscent of John Abercrombie, one of Blotnick's more obvious influences.
In many regards, Everything Forgets surprises in its move towards a more radical artistic direction. Uncertain as to where this path leads, it certainly evidences the authenticity of the leader's quest, and it deserves a serious listen.
Tracks: Intro; Mansell; Judge's Cave; Mainstream I; My Memory, Sir, Is Like A Garbage Heap; Ballad For A Crumbling Infrastructure; Dark Matter (For Benoit Delbecq); Slowdozer; Look, A Way!; Mainstream II; Sulphur, The Reins; Funes The Memorious; Business Class; Cloud Stove; Ned Ferm; Sonny Song.
Personnel: Ryan Blotnick: guitar; Joe Smith: drums; Perry Wortman: bass; Joachim Badenhorst: tenor saxophone, clarinet & bass clarinet; Simon Jermyn: bass, effects; Jeff Williams: drums, chimes.