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Multi-instrumentalist/composer Chris Schlarb rarely does things by halves. Psychic Temple (Sounds Are Active/Asthmatic Kitty, 2011) was the exotic fruit of over a 1000 hours of studio time and an opus that involved twenty nine of California's most progressive musicians. Wordless choir, strings, horns, acoustic and electric instruments combined with drone and subtle electronics to create an utterly sublime sonic meditationthe final word in folk-jazz ambient music. However, with Schlarb, music is always in a state of transition. So it is that the second installment picks up roughly where the first left off but steers the music in another direction, one which may surprise those expectingor hoping formore of the same.
There are, undoubtedly, certain stylistic, melodic and thematic threads linking the two works together, and once again Schlarb has assembled his outsized coteri of trusted collaborators. Yet, this a fundamentally different offering, with lyrics sung on half the tracks. There are also three covers; Brian Wilson's 'Til I Die," sung by Raymond Raposa, Joe Jackson's "Steppin' Out," sung by Aaron Roche, and an instrumental version of Frank Zappa's "Sofa No. 2." These interpretations are fairly faithful to the originals, which in itself is something of a surprise, given Schlarb's penchant for strikingly original compositions. Of the three, perhaps Wilson's composition from the Beach Boys' album Surfs Up (Brother/Reprise, 1971) is closest to Schlarb's aesthetic of harmonically sophisticated layers of sound.
Schlarb's originals, however, hold the most allure; "Seventh House" featuring singer Sarah Naghadari is a strangely hypnotic slice of alternative pop, with saxophonist David Moyer's dreamy tenor dissipating all too soon. The gorgeous ode to love, "Bird in the Garden" has something of guitarist Bill Frisell's aching country lyricism, with DM Stith's gentle, husky delivery framed by Ikey Owen's shimmering Hammond and Philip Glenn's softly singing violin. "Solo in Place" features Roche, whose voice captivates like slowly curling smoke while guitarist Josh Ottum carves a delightfully peppy little solo. Singer Arlene Deradoorian brings understated lyricism to "All I Want is Time," the intro of which echoes "Dream State Police State's reprise from Psychic Temple .
The most jazz influenced track, "The Starry King hears Laughter" features fine solos from trumpeter Kris Tiner and double bassist Devin Hoff on arco. Tiner also shines on "She is the Golden World," where drummers Tabor Allen and Andrew Pompey, who indulge in shadow play on all but one track, paint bolder percussive colors. The violin and trombone drones of "NO TSURAI" come from the heart of the psychic temple. Schlarb and Danny Miller exchange meditative phrases on electric guitar that exude a slightly psychedelic bliss. This segues into the jazz-rock miniature "Hyacinth Thrash Quarter," which is arguably closer to a Zappa homage than "Sofa No. 2."
This second go 'round is more orthodox in conception and has greater rhythmic pulse than its ambient progenitor, the suite-like Psychic Temple though it's a little like comparing apples and oranges. Whilst not as consistently transcendent as PT, PT II is nevertheless totally absorbing and occasionally touches on the poetic.
Track Listing: Seventh House; The Starry King Hears Laughter; Solo in Place; Bird in the Garden; ‘Til I Die; She is the Golden World; Steppin’ Out; All I Want is Time; Sofa No. 2; NO TSURAI; Hyacinth Trash Quarter.
Personnel: Tabor Allen: acoustic drums (1-9, 11); David Moyer: tenor saxophone (1, 8), alto saxophone (8-11) Sarah Negahdari: vocals (1); Andrew Pompey: acoustic drums (1-9, 11); Aaron Roche: vocals (3, 7), backing vocals (1), acoustic guitar (2, 5, 11), flugelhorn (3), pump organ (5); Chris Schlarb: acoustic guitar (1, 3-9, 11), electric guitar (1, 3, 6, 8, 10-11), electric bass (1), Moog synthesizer (1, 10), vibraphone (1, 5), Yamaha CP-70B electric piano (1), backing vocals (4); Devin Hoff: double bass (1, 11); Danny Miller: electric guitar (2, 11); Paulie Pesh: electric guitar (2), acoustic guitar (11); Kris Tiner: trumpet (2, 6); Brian Walsh: bass clarinet (2, 8-11), clarinet (8, 10); Steuart Liebig: six-string electric bass (3-4, 7); Paul Masvidal: acoustic guitar (3), electric guitar (10); Josh Ottum: electric guitar (3), acoustic guitar (4); Nicholas Zork: violin (3, 5, 8); Philip Glenn: violin (4, 8-10); Ikey Owens: Hammond organ (4-5); Adriana Schlarb: backing vocals (4); DM Stith: vocals (4); Logan Coale: double bass (5); Raymond Raposa: vocals (5); Anthony Shadduck: double bass (5-6, 8); Sufjan Stevens: vocals (5); Nedelle Torrisi: vocals (5); John Clement Wood: Yamaha CP-70B electric piano (7); Arlene Deradoorian: (8); Danny T Levin: trombone (8-11), trumpet (8).
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.