Layers upon layers.
Previously hidden details emerging everywhere you choose to focus your attention.
Sound objects materializing against the negative space they were spawned from, establishing shape, form. Single acoustic tones making dramatic entrances and displaying their pure spectral content like Peacocks on parade.
Continually shifting and rearranging combinations of acoustic colors connecting and disconnecting.
Fluctuating waves of dynamics building, engulfing, fading.
Deep melancholic sadness giving way to jubilantly uplifting earth spirits.
All these fragmented micro-thoughts can easily apply to the excellent new albums from Patrick Shiroishi and Colin Stetson. Take the above as disjointed, stream-of-consciousness impressions that I feel are common to both recordings.
On Evergreen, Patrick Shiroishi delivers an emotionally charged sonic movie based on recent trips to the Evergreen Cemetery in Los Angeles where family members are buried. There are four long tracks on the album with the genesis of the first two built around field recordings in the morning, and the second two, in the evening.
The field recordings…natural sounds, thunder, a gentle summer rainstorm is also augmented by some soft radio transmissions and a narrative voice reminiscing about earlier generations of Japanese immigrants during WWII. The terrible, no-win situation was either becoming stateless by being drafted into the U.S. Army and pledging allegiance to America while they are still Japanese citizens or, put into something very close to concentration camps if they chose not to.
These quiet sounds provide a memory trigger, a foundational base to build a rich sound world teeming with detail on top of them. A beautifully rendered ecosphere of drones and melodies come alive as various synths and reed instruments collect en masse to fully flesh out these memories. Evergreen is shot through with raw honesty as these structures…maybe even shrines of remembrance are built.
As the multi-faceted drones grow larger, louder…they gather force like a snowball in an avalanche. Tension, intensity, and volume build as the sound space fills up, as the very nature of the combined sound structure morphs and changes in real-time. Sometimes uplifting and joyful as the positive memories are grasped and held on to, other times more plaintive and longing for thoughts and recollections on the verge of fading.
On the alluring second piece, “there is no moment in which they are not with me”, the breathy sound of a single tenor saxophone separates itself with an assertiveness of a Grand Marshal leading the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It enters the sound space from a backdrop of quiet sustained textures and, from the very first notes…its majesty is revealed in absolute pureness. A second sax eventually enters in similar fashion embellishing and dancing around the first with busier movement. The emotional effect that is revealed is exquisitely magnified because of these contrasting spaces and, may be the highlight of this wonderful album (although that would short shrift the many other moments that reach these heights). A similar uplift occurs on the final piece, “here comes a candle to light you to bed”. This time, a clarinet takes the lead with a simple and very rustic melody…a melody that evokes simpler, happier times perhaps. Again, the reeds are vividly highlighted against a quieter sonic background for maximum contrast. This whole aural photograph eventually fades into a gentle evening storm providing a finality that is perfectly satisfying.
The emotional realms visited on Colin Stetson’s Chimæra I are much less earthbound, instead choosing to reach out into deep voids. But, like Shiroishi’s Evergreen, Stetson’s efforts are no less evocative and compelling…especially for the attentive listener.
Chimæra I has two 20+ minute detailed and very elaborate saxophone drones along with two 8+ minute “reductions” of the longer pieces. To be honest, I’m not sure what these reductions are but I think they may be stitched together edits of the longer pieces. I will say that they work very well as stand-alone tracks if you are inclined (or pressed for time) to experience the album in shorter doses.
As stated on the album notes regarding what mental path Chimæra I suggests, i.e., “imagined caverns”, “hidden hollows” and surging magma flows” …I had a different cinéma pour l’oreille (although I do find it very interesting to hear the composers own personal thoughts on such things). My own personal ear flick did not have a basis in geologic structure or terra firma groundings, instead opting for a cold, dark, airless, and lifeless non-being, a canvas marching toward times end. A nothingness that echoes…but from what?
But listen again. Those loops and layers of long sustained bass sax tones, occasionally interrupted to form a series of short, swirling bursts…they remind me of giant buzz saws. The extended bass sax layers themselves…I can’t help but think of the rumble of a giant generator. A power source rejuvenating from the wreckage and remnants it was created to level. A humongous battery driving a massive tank-like mech that ponderously crawls over the surface of a landscape, disintegrating everything in its path with an outer skin of jagged, spinning circular blades. A berserker with no purpose other than subsuming everything in its path… but why?
But listen again. A walk down and through a tunnel…a long one. One that becomes harder and harder to breath the deeper you go. Nothing but smooth, stone-gray walls…leading to what? (I’ll pause here and admit that maybe Colin’s geologic references above do have legs to them.)
But listen again…
Ok, point made. Chimæra I strongly beckons and compels the willing deep listener to come back, again and again. Different cinematics, different experience. Sometimes physical, sometimes mental, sometimes both…but always gripping and mesmerizing.
I decided to do both of these albums in a single write-up, initially because of the common saxophone theme. As it turns out, there is a much more relevant theme than just a shared instrument. Patrick Shiroishi’s Evergreen and Colin Stetson’s Chimæra I have a more important superpower in common, the ability to transport. They accomplish this in two very different and distinct styles, but the endgame is the same. Touching on different emotions, different thought centers… both artists are vividly molding their own distinct narratives, creating a sense of place in their own very personal way. These sounds allow us to interact with a world of ultimately, our own making, but one we would never have found without the artists as guides.
It’s this sense of potential that is so appealing about these recordings. Shiroishi and Stetson are not only acting as world builders but, they are also offering the listener a golden ticket… a ringside seat to share and interact right alongside them. Ultimately, the freedom and power of experience. Both come very highly recommended.