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Electric Fusions: Worldly and Wild


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As always, there are as many kinds of fusion as there are people to fuse things. This electrifying half-dozen from around the globe all bring a lot of electricity to jazz and rock and other things, though all in very different ways.

Oli Astral
From the Astral
Multiple Chord Music

While Olivier Grenier-Bédard's snappy stage name promises a taste of outer space, his music still never loses its down-to-earth human warmth. The group at play is an eclectic and electric trio, albeit one that often sounds bigger—not because of any grandiosity, but a kind of subtle radiance that suggests bursting free and flying. They show a bright ear for melody throughout, still keeping the grooves fun and easy to follow even when the timing patterns start to get tricky.

The production/sonic palette is bright and the trio's interplay even brighter. Grenier-Bédard's quasi-Pat Metheny-ish guitar tone gives him a perpetual sunny shimmer, often with a sort of coloring track hanging and looping behind his solos, while the rhythm players hop and skip like they're always on the verge of dancing. Still, the technology is always a minimal embellishment while the focus stays on what they're doing in the moment. In these hands, space is a cheerful place indeed.

Brian Eaton
All the Earth Will Mourn
Eatin' Records

You can read a lot of doom into a title like this, but Brian Eaton decides to take the more slow and thoughtful route with All the Earth Will Mourn. The EP is a beautiful meditation drifting through an impressive range of emotional shades; while the title track does have a somber gravity to its ambient haze, the program soon starts spinning evocative paintings of spiritual and celestial beauty as well.

Eaton's studio collage could be shuffled quite comfortably into playlists alongside Brian Eno or Tangerine Dream; he shares their attention to detail as well as a willingness to stand back and let the notes simply hang and ring in the emptiness. A guitar solo or shimmering electronic groove might add some judicious energy here and there; otherwise a cocoon of light rhythms and spacey drones is enough to convey a little awe or understated grandeur on its own. It's an immersive production that doesn't need any flash or complexity, just the patience to float and simply exist.

Point of Few
Open to Closeness
Bivak Records

For a debut, Open to Closeness shows a band pretty self-assured in its willingness to both groove and confuse. Point of Few works like a painstakingly coordinated machine—the pieces are too intricate not to be rigorously planned—yet nothing seems to happen without a certain degree of chaos. Among familiar fragments of funk and jam-band groove, the main element here is restlessness. They like to rattle and groove along at a steady clip, but rarely in a straight line.

Repeating patterns can dissolve into wild flailing at any moment. When sax or guitar takes the lead with a soaring solo, the drums tend to clatter in defiance of steady rhythm rather than embrace it. A quiet interlude with a strangely out-of-place spoken-word sample soon slides into one of the brightest moments here. "3Stories" weaves a suite from x to x in an arc that unpredictably makes sense, while "Memory of a Fringe" takes a quaint jazzy motif into plain funk by going through a section of wild flailing first. The group knows what its niche is, even if it'll still keep everyone else guessing.

Marcelo McCagnan
Night Tales
Self Produced

Marcelo McCagnan has all the right the ingredients for a solid prog-fusion romp here—intricacy, virtuosity, electricity—but his third release goes somewhere less obvious and more interesting. There's a consistent South American flavoring running through thanks to some Brazilian rhythms, and the technical skill is reined in more than the "prog-fusion" label would usually suggest. The energy of Night Tales tends to burn and smolder without completely bursting out. Sometimes it cooks impressively on the surface, as in the opener's sinuously charming vocal spot. The mid-set Soundgarden cover is an obvious example, both for the semi-mutation of an iconic tune and the way it blooms into a wall of strangely pretty noise. Still, each track has its own clever not-too-flashy ride to offer, and the deliberate restraint makes the wildest points hit even harder.

Mathias Heise Quadrillion
Giant Sheep Music

Supposedly, if a (presumably immortal) person were to actually try to count as high as a quadrillion, it would take more than 31 million years. It takes a band with ambition to name itself after something so huge; nonetheless, the sound of this quartet isn't exactly huge or intimidatingly vast. It does reach high— sometimes for the sky, sometimes for outer space—while staying rooted enough in rhythm and groove to still keep everyone grounded.

The band enjoys several flavors of bubbly fusion together, packing intricate prog-funk grooves with worldly percussion and a share of wiggly synth, all as a bed for continuous bouncy improvisation. Mathias Heise's electrified harmonica makes for a fun icing on the tonal cake—with the extra garnish of melodic R&B over frisky rhythms, the sound is as much Stevie Wonder as Weather Report or Frank Zappa. All the elements are familiar, while there's no chance of settling into any too-familiar niche when bouncing across all the different ones all at once.

Szun Waves
Earth Patterns
The Leaf Label

It may seem a bit odd that the title Earth Patterns comes with something significantly spacey, but if you consider the more cosmic vastness of its predecessors, the title makes a bit more sense. Szun Waves intended this release to be more grounded, so their electronic psych-Krautrock-free jazz melange does have a steadier share of patterns and rhythms than the wildly amorphous New Hymn to Freedom (The Leaf Label, 2018).

The trio still feels its way through a series of shifting emotional portraits, letting the pieces blossom into shape like living things. Jack Wyllie's sax and Luke Abbott's souped-up synth tones still reach for the heavens, often slathered with reverb (or sometimes drowning in it). They're anchored by a steady sense of rhythm, though, from Laurence Pike's percussive colorings to some instrumental holding patterns that verge on hypnotic. The emotion and drama comes from the flow itself; when the trio stays in a holding pattern or just hovers in one spot, they let the intensity come from building loud/soft dynamics instead. One way or another, Earth Patterns centers around grounding patterns but still constantly mutates as only deep-down natural intuition can.

Tracks and Personnel

From the Astral

Tracks: From the Astral; L'envol; From the Deep; Avec Plaisir; From the Heart; Spectre Sonore.

Personnel: Olivier Grenier-Bédard (Oli Astral): guitar; Frédéric Alarie: double bass; William Régnier: drums.

All the Earth Will Mourn

Tracks: All the Earth Will Mourn; The Sound of Many Waters; Standing in the Midst; Clothed with the Sun, Moon and Stars; No Lamp nor Light of the Sun.

Personnel: Brian Eaton: drums, percussion, guitars, bass, keyboards.

Open to Closeness

Tracks: Open to Closeness; Octopus' Dream; 3Stories; David Attenborough; Sheik's Lament; Memory of a Fringe; We Might Never Be Together; Onomatopoeia; Radio Medoly.

Personnel: Petr Smékal: saxophone; Radim Přidal: guitar; Vlastimil Škoda: bass; Marek Antoňů: drums; Jason Lindner: keys (1-3).

Night Tales

Tracks: Creatures of Habit; Glass; Gungi; Black Hole Sun; Vital Spark; Breaking Out.

Personnel: Marcelo McCagnan: bass; Andrew Cheng: guitar; Sukyung Kim: keyboards; Maxime Cholley: drums; Simona Smirnova: vocals (1).


Tracks: Blue City; Bad Luck; Soft Mind; A Call from Quad; Carsten Kalder; The Beast; Bisse Funk; Hopeful Monsters.

Personnel: Mathias Heise: chromatic harmonica; Mads Christiansen: guitar; David Vang: bass; Aksel Stadel Borum: drums; Anders Malta: trumpet (8); Jonas Due: trumpet, flugelhorn (8); Oilly Wallace: alto sax (8); Frederick Menzies: tenor sax (8); Yohan Ramon: percussion (8).

Earth Patterns

Tracks: Exploding Upwards; New Universe; Garden; In the Moon House; Be a Pattern for the World; Willow Leaf Pear; Atomkerne.

Personnel: Jack Wyllie: saxophone; Luke Abbott: keyboards; Laurence Pike: drums.


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