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Autobahn: Of the Tree

Dave Wayne By

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Not to be confused with the band of the same name from The Big Lebowski (or the similarly-named British indie- rock / emo band, for that matter) this Autobahn is a trio of jolly Canadians who play 21st Century jazz. Not "swinging" jazz in the traditional Blue Note sense, the music of this bass-free trio of reeds, drums, and piano has really strong affinities with jazz—an emphasis on improvisation, jazz derived harmonies, and phrasing that borrows heavily from modern jazz of the late 20th Century—yet manages to stand somewhat askance from jazz-as-we- expect-it-to-be.

Part of this stems from the trio's instrumentation. Maintaining a walking bass line on piano or reeds tends to be pretty confining, style- wise. Listening to Of The Tree, it's also really clear that these fellows have something else on their minds besides carrying the post-bop torch. The album is chock full of oblique—and not-so-oblique—references to a diversity of non-jazz influences, chief among them: ambient music, avant- garde chamber music, math rock, minimalism, and indie rock. As brainy as Autobahn's music can be, it is consistently emotive and visceral. Of The Trees has a punkish, rough-hewn, DIY sensibility that's similar to with the aesthetic of early 21st Century indie-jazzers such as The Bad Plus, (or, for that matter, Dave King's band Happy Apple), James Carter's Gold Sounds, and Jim Black's AlasNoAxis.

Though some of the tracks, particularly the more spacious balladic pieces such as "Tribute," "Reverie," and the spooky set-opening and closing improvs "Grounded" and "Airborne" would be quite at home on a contemporary ECM release, Autobahn generally works with a much more intense sound palette than most artists of the ECM ilk. Multi- reedman Jeff LaRochelle has a big, brawny sound, and his emotive soloing on tenor is reminiscent of Tony Malaby's. On bass clarinet, he has a similar approach and really enjoys attacking the rough and frayed edges of the instrument's capabilities on both the low and high ends. Like LaRochelle, drummer Ian Wright's slashing, ebullient playing really lit up Andrew McAnsh's excellent debut album Illustrations (self-produced, 2016). Here, against expectations, plays a big rock'n'roll kit in an rather aggressive fashion, and his melodically-tuned toms and bass drum are responsible for a lot of the low end sonics on the giddy "Forgiveness," the dark-hued slow-burn "Glass," and "Slow Dance" an anthemic piece that, in different hands, would be a flat-out indie-rocker. James Hill's piano does more than tie the room together. Like LaRochelle and Wright, he's both deft and pugilistic and he's blessed with the ability to infer a bass part without actually playing it all the time. His piano comes charging out of the gates full bore on the manic "Primrose Princess, Part 1" and basically never lets up.

All else aside, Of The Trees offers a number of very strong melodies and riffs that make for far less difficult listening than one might anticipate. In addition, the guys make heavy use of the studio, and there's lots of multitracking going on which gives the band a much fuller sound than you would expect. Lots of improv here for sure, but this is no "free jazz" album. "Tribute" is an absolutely lovely meditation that mixes multi-tracked clarinets, a simple piano theme and huge-yet-mellow drums with delicately screamy reed multiphonics. The goofily sunny "Forgiveness" has a Celtic thread that is never quite lost even though the piece strays way out into groove- based improv. Slow-building and subtly episodic, "Glass" is simply gorgeous: a piece that is both well-conceived and tremendously well- executed. Of the Trees is full of exciting, emotionally- charged and ultimately very satisfying musical moments. One can only imagine what these guys sound like in a live situation.

Track Listing: Grounded; Primrose Princess, Part I; Tribute; Forgiveness, Roots; Reverie; Interlude; Glass; Slow Dance; Bird Flight; Primrose Princess, Part II; Airborne.

Personnel: James Hill: piano; Jeff DeRochelle: tenor sax and bass clarinet; Ian Wright: drums.

Title: Of the Tree | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Self Produced


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