Tabs Out | New Batch – Astral Spirits

New Batch – Astral Spirits
7.4.17 by Ryan Masteller

Astral Spirits batch

Astral Spirits exists to transcend the mundane. The physical is nothing for the Austin-based label – that’s right, these cats are interested in commuting your mind beyond the realm of the tangible to a place simply BEYOND. You wanna wrap your head around something, get a good grasp on a concept? No! Let it wander … let it be. They take a page from the Sun Ra handbook of far-out jazz as transportation mechanism, a way to – and this trope is overused, SO WHAT – lasso a comet and ride it through the galaxy, discovering new and unfathomable truths along the way. Astral Spirits exists to press the human mind and human physical capabilities forward, far beyond their current abilities. Astral Spirits is the future. And hey, look! A new tape batch!

Michael Foster and Ben Bennett play sax and drums, respectively, and they set to redefine the idea of “uncomfortable intimacy” within the jazz duo idiom. It’s not really uncomfortable, I guess, but it sure sounds intimate, like Foster is constantly leaning over Bennett and bleating into his face while Bennett, face dripping with sweat, is gripping his sticks so tightly and blasting through patterns so intricate and taut that he has redefined the physical properties of rigidity and elasticity as his body tenses and releases. Foster, for his part, is insanely inventive with his horn-blowin’, and I don’t use “insanely” lightly here. He sounds as if he should probably be locked up, he’s so dang expressive. I can imagine Bennett, with Foster all up in his grill, laughing uncontrollably at points while the saxman’s face contorts and, indeed, rearranges itself mere inches from the drummer. Maybe that’s not how it went down, but it sure is funny to think about. And the track titles: “a griffin, dip my phone in it”; “a pantleg, dip my ghosties in it”; “a crappy, dip my nest in it”; “a cartwheel, dip my slab-car in it”; and so forth!

W-2 – what is this, tax season? I’ve already given the government my hard-earned cash. No more, I say! Oh, right, this is not a form I have to fill out but a tape I have to listen to, and my ears can complete the questionnaire upon completion. (There’s no questionnaire.) Well, good thing that W-2 traffic in two of my favorite things: sax and synth! The duo, composed of tenor saxophonist Sam Weinberg and circuit melter/synthesizer-ist Chris Welcome (of Flying Luttenbachers fame, dear, sweet Luttenbachers!), don’t so much make music together as blast the outcome of their sound sources at one another until it superheats into literal molten lava, consuming every practice space, live stage, and studio they perform or record in. They’re often not invited back for a second performance. (I’m lying!) The great part is that it’s unusual to tell where Weinberg ends and Welcome begins, such is their potent combination of viscous sonics. Weinberg even suggests as much when discussing the whole point of the project: “[W]e’ve tried to develop a language that makes the two instruments indistinguishable from one another.” It’s working, Sam, it’s working. I don’t even want to be rescued from this miasma.

Did somebody say TETRAD? You may think that this is a description of something in four parts, but it’s not – read it as “tet-RAD” and you get the picture. Because it’s rad! (I’ve lost the thread.) Actually, it’s probably the most “astral” release in this batch, as the HMS quartet – Joe Houpert, Nathan McLaughlin, Erich Steiger, and Steve Perucci – approach improv with a less abrasive, more ambient slant, using the studio space and moments between notes to build their compositions. It’s gorgeous stuff, sound, ahem, clustering like clouds of gaseous matter in deep space (“Quasit,” “Herzou”), then, injected with energy, forming new galaxies of sonic experimentation (“Retriever,” “Balor”). It’s clear the players have a history together – they’ve released music since 2011 – and this new endeavor, this “tet-RAD” as I now call it because that’s the only thing I see anymore when I look at the word, is an evolutionary leap in the right direction.

Andrew Smiley’s a little bit … different, I guess, compared to the other artists in this batch. I mean, I’m sitting here reading about improvisation and vocals – that’s one of the differences, Smiley uses vocals as an instrument – and even My Bloody Valentine, and then he drops this bombshell on us: “During the years in which I was developing this music, I spent a lot of time thinking about wolves, and feeling empathy for their struggle to live alongside humans. I would like this release to bring awareness to the intelligence of wolves, and their right to exist within ecosystems.” I was right all along! Or, I, uh, sort of guessed what he was going for? No – no, I didn’t think that at all until he mentioned it. But that’s OK! “Dispersal” is a single composition split over two sides, guitar providing the texture and foundation, sometimes scratchy, sometimes ringing clear notes, while Smiley’s vocals hover over, appearing, disappearing, a reminder of consciousness, neither human nor inhuman (read: wolf). “Dispersal” is placid at times, and at others it’s truly vicious (see for a great example the lengthy strummed passage on side B), but it’s almost always at a point of communicating deep into the night

Each of these beauts comes in an edition of 150, so make like a tree and go online and buy one of each already!

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