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Brandon Seabrook: Convulsionaries

Don Phipps By

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This exciting freewheeling, free-playing, ear-stretching, mind-expanding set from composer / guitarist Brandon Seabrook strives for new ground in music—a hybrid of modern classical idioms and experimental jazz. It succeeds. The music stretches what one might conceive of as "jazz."

Joined by Henry Fraser on bass and Daniel Levin on cello, Seabrook accomplishes his breakthrough by mixing formalism, improvisation, and experimentation in new and stunning fashion.

The set begins with the arrhythmic, jolting, slightly disturbing "Bovicidal." Seabrook announces the piece with a discordant stroke. While he produces rapid-fire guitar work, Fraser explores the lower register of the bass. The trio rumbles and sounds like police sirens or howls are heard in the distance, adding to the intense mood.

"Groping at a Breakthrough" starts with a repetitive series of jarring hammer notes that slowly pick up speed. As the repetition twists and turns, the trio bring several tones and colors to the music. There's an almost out-of-body experience at the halfway point, followed by a sudden funky complexity. Seabrook and Levin challenge each other—strumming and bowing away furiously. The music is on steroids, with lots of hard action as it heads to a rollicking finish.

Bass bowing and guitar syncopated phrasing launch the nightmarish "Crux Accumulator." Rapid fire guitar notes pour out over the extreme changes in rhythm. Levin improvs over Fraser's bass bowing. Then Fraser strums the bass while Levin slaps the cello. The explosive actions are enhanced by Seabrook's astonishing guitar effects. And hold on for the surprise ending.

"Vulgar Mortals" begins with a complex Morse code back-and-forth between the musicians. Levin's cello lines emerge over Seabrook's hard mechanistic strums. Fraser plays legato notes while Seabrook adds cool late-night effects atop. There's a foggy interlude and haunting, chilling sounds. The music breaks into solid odd-meter abstraction. Seabrook and Levin go crazy with fast punches before a musical pause that sounds like a mandolin. A quick solo by Fraser follows. The images conjured are haunting and apocalyptic. Towards the end, Levin takes over with rapid bowing and plucking accompanied by insect-like sounds at a lower pitch.

"Qorikancha" opens with swift bass and cello attacks. Atop the bass plucks and cello bowing, Seabrook's chords rise like dark buildings emerging from a surreal de Chirico landscape. His Spaghetti Western twangs and forceful phrasing are joined by Fraser's bass line, which develops into a nightmarish solo. Levin's cello splashes back and forth over Fraser's bass picks. Levin offers rapid cello strumming. The musicians abruptly pause and then resume with a musical eulogy that is as disturbing as it is modern. Seabrook closes the piece with powerful guitar distortions and chordal strumming.

The final piece on the album, "Mega Faunatic," begins with a bass solo atop some cello plucking, The tune quickly develops into a cello/bass call-and-response. Then the sound blurs. Seabrook enters over the syncopated rhythm, his mechanical squeal intermixed with legato phrasing. Fraser's bass rumbles as Seabrook takes over with a solo that reaches the highest registers of the guitar. The music flutters like a hummingbird, darting here and there. The phrases rip and flex. Levin enters with a solemn bowed-solo and the song ends with a unified but haunting melody—the closest thing to melody on the album. The melody slowly picks up steam, as all three players join in, and then the music fades into the ether.

Is this a breakthrough album? It may be gushing to say so. But certainly, Seabrook and his group are on to something unique. This is high caliber music that begs the adventurous to follow. It offers fascinating sounds, complex and cerebral landscapes, and stunning vistas of a world gone mad. Seabrook says, "We have the ability to go anywhere we want instantaneously and really uncloak the fury." Those who engage will be rewarded. Highly recommended.

Track Listing: Bovicidal; Groping at a Breakthrough; Crux Accumulator; Vulgar Mortals; Qorikancha; Mega Faunatic.

Personnel: Brandon Seabrook: guitar; Henry Fraser: bass; Daniel Levin: cello.

Title: Convulsionaries | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Astral Spirits

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