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Brian (Shankar) Adler: Binary & Mysteries of the Deep

Troy Dostert By

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For those seeking a bit of metaphysical speculation with their jazz, one could benefit from giving these two new EPs from drummer Brian Adler a careful listen. A thoughtful, creative percussionist, Adler is eager to explore the big questions in his music, and his use of complex rhythmic structures and instrumentation from other traditions (particularly Indian carnatic music) lends an additional layer of interest to his work.

The first of the two releases, Binary, is a project pursuing some of the perplexities involved in human/computer interactions. With the help of pianist Santiago Leibson and bassist Rob Jost, Adler's music on this five-track album exposes the limits of binary categories such as "human/machine" or "form/freedom." The album's opener, "Drone," establishes a meditative atmosphere through minimalist repeated patterns on piano, bass and ghatam (one of two additional instruments, the other being the djembe, that Adler uses to augment his traditional kit on the record). From there we get into the four-part suite that comprises Adler's inquiry into the notion that "humans and machines will someday merge and become one." To wrestle seriously with this question, Adler built the suite around a computer-generated algorithmic transcription of one of his poems, using the resulting binary code to produce the rhythmic and pitch sequences the musicians would then play. Although the concept sounds perhaps a bit too cerebral, the music itself is surprisingly accessible. The second part of the suite, "Binary II. Be!," is especially infectious, as its complex melody is supported through some skilled drumwork and terrific interplay between Leibson and Jost. Although at a mere ten minutes of music it's really quite brief (it is, after all, an EP), there are a lot of fascinating musical possibilities explored on this album.

The same can be said of the second release, Mysteries of the Deep. Although less ambitious in concept, the music is even better, with the pivotal contributions of vibraphonist Matt Moran and guitarist Jonathan Goldberger added to the trio from Binary. More conventionally thematic in nature, these four cuts are also more expansive than those on the other record, with a bit more room for the musicians to stretch out—something that Moran and Goldberger are certainly eager to do. Just listen to the ominous edge they create on "Pulses," the album's third track, with Goldberger's fuzzed-out chords and Moran's perfectly placed notes leading to a gradual crescendo of moody tension and mystery. While one could file these tracks loosely under the "post-bop jazz" category, the Indian classical influence within Adler's music is unmistakable, as the album's first cut, "Mantra," is structured around the Rag Chandrakauns, a traditional Indian modal form, and the record's closing track, "Rudram," is based on a Vedic chant. Even so, these songs are clearly as indebted to the jazz tradition as they are to Indian culture, as the band grooves mightily on these tunes, with strong melodic statements that are anchored expertly by Adler and Jost.

There's little doubt that this intriguing and well-played music will serve to heighten interest in Adler's unique vision. Here's to hoping that he will soon get additional opportunities to develop his musical ideas in even more interesting directions.

Track Listing: (Binary): Drone; Binary I. Am I a robot or an ape?!; Binary II. Be!; Binary III. I am. / U R; Binary IV. Or a zombie?; (Mysteries of the Deep): Mantra; Windy Path; Pulses; Rudram.

Personnel: (Binary): Santiago Leibson: piano; Rob Jost: bass; Brian (Shankar) Adler: drums, ghatam, djembe, computer; (Mysteries of the Deep): Matt Moran: vibes; Jonathan Goldberger: electric guitar; Santiago Leibson: piano; Rob Jost: bass; Brian (Shankar) Adler: drums, ghatam.

Title: Binary & Mysteries of the Deep | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Circavision Productions

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