Guitarist Sebastian Noelle
is a very busy player, but just does not make many records, which seem to come about every five years: Across The River
(2011) and now the marvelous Shelter
Assembling a first rate band consisting of Marc Mommaas
on tenor saxophone (heard most recently on Ballads And Standards
), pianist Matt Mitchell
(worked with Tim Berne
, John Hollenbeck Rudresh Mahanthappa
), bassist Matt Clohesy
(heard most recently on Gabriel Vicens's Point In Time
) and drummer Dan Weiss
(who worked with Mitchell in Berne's Snake Oil band).
Noelle's music is (for the most part) rhythmically complex and recruiting Weiss, who has deeply studied Indian drumming and is quite at home with such complexity, helps put a firm support under the band regardless of what is going on. The other outstanding feature of this music is the layering, which creates a shimmering density in which it is sometimes difficult to tell which instruments are playing a particular line.
This amorphous quality should not be confused with flabbiness, however. The band is very tight, and it is hard to tell if the arrangements have been intensely rehearsed, or if each player is so skilled that everything meshed just naturally. The tracks are mostly six minutes and over, and each one has its own mood which spins out and develops. The rhythmic, melodic and harmonic complexities do not preclude various grooves from surfacing, which counterbalances the headiness of Noelle's music.
The intensity factor is mostly that of the slow, low burn; the music's subtleness and richness needs time to lay out its course and define its ground. Noelle's guitar lines reflect the sense of the music, and of course all of the other players, most noticeably Mommaas, help Noelle express his inner flame.
Two tracks are of particular interest. "Ahir Bhairav," a take on a Hindustani classical raga
has the two things associated with Indian music: a high energy, of almost religious intensity and a timelessness where a clear developmental arc does not exist. Noelle is on fire and passes the torch to Mommaas who responds superbly; Weiss, of course, is right at home, while Clohesy adds a powerful drive. Terrific track.
"Naphta vs Settembrinji," a reference to two of the main characters in Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain
, the shortest track on the record. The music's beginning is atmospheric and a bit dangerous, shifting dramatically in the second half, reflecting the argument between the book's philosophical protagonists; and no, one does not have to know the allusion to appreciate the music.
Noelle is a deep thinker, and his music naturally is a reflection of himself. Shelter
is a very fine album; attentive listening is needed to fully appreciate all that it has to offer.