The industrial anarchists Throbbing Gristle stood by their notion that noise and frequency could change states of consciousness. Listening to saxophonist Anna Meadors
of Joy On Fire, with her pitch-shifting and time-stretching, might back this idea up. Certainly the audience enters many realms of awareness on the band's album Hymn
. Even the cover artwork, a close-up of beach grass in Maryland, was chosen for its dramatic contrasts.
A core trio with numerous associates, Joy On Fire have made a home in New Jersey. Their debut effort Fire With Fire
(Procrastination Records, 2017) brought them to certain prominence, followed by such projects as the punchy and pulsing Thunderdome
(Self Produced, 2020), which entered the realms of David Byrne and Hedvig Mollestad. Meadors has real star quality, but owes much to the co-writing and arranging of John Paul Carillo
(bass, electric guitar) and drummer Christopher Olsen
Renowned for their combustible live performances, this band is way more than a troupe of melodic noiseniks. Indeed the compositional breadth and ambition on Hymn
can fair take one's breath at times. The numbers twist and spout with constant surprise elements, never leaving us in a state of stasis. If this changeful element comes from their close study of King Crimson
, then all well and good. But a fluctuating aspect within any opus is welcome, to challenge creator and listener alike.
This album feels more concerned with tightly rehearsed material than spontaneous interaction. "Hymn Part 1" opens on edgy sax and bone-juddering bass where the riff swells and subsides hypnotically. Meadors soon flies into a jiggly solo of such lightness that a clarinet might do it equal justice. A tingling triangle offsets the bassy churn and energized drums as the piece gathers its intense theme. The band apparently considers this their most 'hippy song,' in which case it owes far more to The Doors
than James Taylor
"Hymn Part 2" finds Meadors honking her horn like an impatient taxi driver above a subdued backing. Both she and Carillo strike a guttural balance, though precise piano chords accent the dynamic tune further. At least until the closing minutes, when Carillo's guitar leads the keyboards on a merry, grungy dance.
At over nine minutes long, "Rhopareptilia" is a real chamber-jazz epic. Exchanges between piano and cello lend a luxurious sadness, as Meadors subtly probes her way in. Cymbals and drums burst out at startling moments, and soft piano chords dominate each quiet interlude, but the stealth with which Joy On Fire build their pieces is trance-like, as more tumult leads to an urgent crescendo. A vivid and unsettling track, "Rhopareptilia" seems to vacillate between fear and faith.
The lengthy "The Complete Book Of Bonsai, Part 2" then hurls us onto a dancefloor where Meadors conjures one hooky chorus after another. Again the change comes in abruptly as Carillo lays down some sullen bass. Happiness it seems can evaporate quickly, though what follows is less a comedown, more a second wind. A collage of shifting tempos invites all manner of stoned and chaotic movements, swayings and shakings. "Punk Jazz" then plays it straight in 4/4 time, giving a concise feelgood number to finish with.
To establish a theme and improvise on it might seem the obvious jazz route to altering consciousness. Hymn
proves that structure and melodic muscle also offer deep connections, in which the individual and ensemble can flourish.
Hymn Part 1; Hymn Part 2; Rhopareptilia; The Complete Book Of Bonsai, Part 2; Punk Jazz.
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