Density. Shifting ground. Textural discord. Sharpness like glass. Resonant emptiness. Explorative improvisation, electronica sound spaces and electric beats. Released by the Craig Taborn project Junk Magic, Compass Confusion moves the fusion of live performance with electronica to the next level, making the division between the two often difficult to discern.
The album incorporates a cross section of electronica techniques, including often lesser recognized subgenres like ambient, trip-hop, and minimalist industrial. This diverse representation of electronic music coupled with the quintet's animated live performance results in an unusual and potent effect throughout. Compass Confusion establishes equality between traditional instruments, electronics, and postproduction, each becoming a valid tool for expression. The manipulation of pace, depth, space, and sonic layering native to both electronica, especially its later manifestations, and abstract jazz are underscored by the group's alchemy. For example, the opening composition "Laser Beaming Hearts" layers ambient sound sculptures, traditional techno rhythms, and drum and bass beats in a mounting surge of energy, all interlaced with individual and group improvisation. In contrast, the dark dub bass, minimalist spatial effects, and Mat Maneri's gaunt viola lends "Dream And Guess" its somber quality. In a similar vein, the tidal dynamics of the titular "Compass Confusion" oscillates between understated tension and vibrating pockets of calm. Tunes like the discordant, yet evocative, "Sargasso" and the temperate "Sunsets Forever" dispel the perception that electronic music is limited in its ability to convey complex cerebral and emotional content, a notion that has plagued it from its inception. Here, the emotive content is reliant just as much on Taborn's survey of electronica's finer qualities as it is the quintet's fine instrumental mastery.
Compass Confusion is not an electronica album with jazz inflections nor is it a jazz album masquerading as electronica. It stands as a singular creation, best absorbed via emersion rather than dissection.
Laser Beaming Hearts; Dream and Guess; Compass Confusion; The Science of Why the Devil Smells like
Sulfur; The Night Land; Sargasso; Sunsets Forever.