's self-titled debut album throws progressive rock and free jazz into a dizzying, heavily improvisational mix of satisfying songs and forgettable avante-garde experiments.
Created in 2017, UHHM is a Baltimore-based trio with Nick Sala on guitar, Jack Naden on drums and Chris Frick on keyboards and French horn. Their genre-blending and experimental compositions lead to some dense, striking moments.
"Septagon," the only song on the album composed by drummer Jack Naden instead of guitarist Nick Sala, is easily UHHM's crown jewel, almost completely abandoning the trio's free jazz trappings and diving straight into progressive rock. The entire composition is built around one intensely groovy chord progression on piano, reinforced by electric guitar. Starting with this motif, UHHM embarks on a stylistic journey, ranging from an expressive, smooth guitar solo to joyful, rhythmic piano that classic rock tunes like Billy Joel's have in spades. UHHM reinforces "Septagon's" main melody so much that the track could easily act as a theme in a soundtrack, but still keeps the song instrumentally surprising all the way through.
Instead of building around one melody, "Arrival" creates a peaceful mood with a textured mix of moody guitar licks, spacy drums and watery keys. UHHM succeeds where the best tracks from Nels Cline
do, creating tunes that drift along slowly, encouraging listeners to soak in every moment.
The album's penultimate song, "Paradigm Shift," is where UHHM earns their free jazz stripes. The track begins with dizzying guitar licks panning from left to right over frantic piano and drums. Eventually the chaos settles into soft, hypnotic guitar that builds as UHHM adds layers of drums, keys and French horn. By focusing on one progression, this song reaches a gothic, eerie melancholy that the trio's other tracks cannot reach. In its finale, the song dives back into chaos, launched forward by stabs of piano and propulsive ascending guitar. Everything locks into one rhythm and works beautifully.
Despite the talent shown in UHHM
's energetic and moody high points, not all seven tracks are as creative or memorable. "Ditty" kicks off the album with a promising mix of dissonant piano chords and progressive rock guitar. As the track develops, UHHM displays a wide dynamic range from ominous keys and soft licks to swells of frenetic drumming, crunchy guitar chords and harsh piano. But the track's improvisational and avant-garde nature make it inaccessible and forgettable. Without a backbone to tie the chaos together, "Ditty" fails as a composition.
Like "Septagon," "Too" is built around one motif, a deep, rumbling guitar lick, but UHHM gets a lot less mileage out of it, repeating it until it feels grating and stale. At the end of a guitar solo, the trio gives the track's main melody new life, reimagining it as a bluesy electric guitar progression. But as soon as this stylistic aside starts to gain momentum, UHHM cuts it off and leaves it behind, hammering the same lick into the ground. Although "Too" is better structured and more memorable than UHHM's abstract efforts, it fails to blossom into an exciting song.
Although the trio falters on a few tracks, UHHM
is a promising debut and a worthwhile listen for fans of free jazz and progressive rock.