Tabs Out | New Batch – Astral Spirits

New Batch – Astral Spirits

2.26.19 by Ryan Masteller

It’s not just jazz. It can be, but it’s not just. We’ve come to expect a lot from Astral Spirits over the decades, that paragon of experiment, that bastion of hope in the abstract. Wait, did I say “decades”? Well shoot, it only seems that way, and it doesn’t help my sense of linear time passing or my valuation of “experience” to see that “batch 20” stamped ever so digitally on the website. I see that “20” and I think “anniversary,” “years passing,” “lives lived,” “Mike Schmidt’s jersey number.” Well, not that last one, really, unless we’re talking about Astral Spirits hitting home runs, which they do a lot of with their releases. I guess when they get to catalog number 548 we can talk. (That’s how many home runs Mike Schmidt hit in his career, all with the Philadelphia Phillies.)

Anyway, “20” is still a lot of batches. Astral Spirits is good at what they do.


Wick (trumpet) and Sudderberg (drums) provide the two components in “Combinatory Pleasures,” and, like the fable of the chocolate truck smashing into the peanut butter truck at a dangerous speed, thereby creating the idea for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups out of the delusional suffering of the two severely hurt drivers, a new and specific treat is formed, but for our ears, not our tongues. Still, to linger on the clichéd metaphor, Wick and Sudderberg roll their concoctions around in their mouths for a while, allowing the palette to fully reveal the secrets of the ingredients till they bloom in outrageous flavor. The duo does not dive directly in to their partnership, skirting the edges of each other’s playing, feeling out the other’s skills; then, when they’re fully satisfied, they swirl together in rhythmic symbiosis, each allowing the other to break out at points to shower their audience with virtuosic performance. Drums and trumpets! Who would’ve thought.


Spires That in the Sunset Rise, the duo composed of Ka Baird and Taralie Peterson, has been around since 2001, which is crazy, because that was eighteen years ago now, and also 9/11 happened then (#NeverForget). Somebody compared them to Sun City Girls once, and who am I to judge. (Oh right, music critic. Still, carry on.) Now, on their first release for Astral Spirits, the duo get “ecstatic,” that is, “House Ecstatic,” the name of this tape, which has a subtitle, “(Cover Your Blood),” that I guess helps us line up our expectations a little bit. See, each track is titled “X stat [number],” like each one is a hit to the bloodstream, and each piano trill and sax blurt and clarinet run and flute … jab (?) spikes through your heartbeat like adrenalized lightning. There’s the blood! Ecstasy in the blood. There are weird chant-y voices on here too, which sort of heighten the playfulness of this partnership at points, like when they meet the shaker percussion on “X stat twentyfive,” for example. In the end, the pairing of Spires and Astral Spirits is perfect, and why hasn’t it happened sooner, I wonder? Seriously, somebody tell me.


What is this, the batch of long partnerships? Proving that the number 20 may in fact be a big Masonic number after all, Pierce Warnecke and Louis Laurain have ALSO been working together “for almost two decades.” As such, they can conceive layered concepts with ease and “lay it on us,” such as they do with “Phonotypic Plasticity.” A play on “phenotypic,” which is a relation of how organisms react with their environments, Warnecke and Laurain get tactile on us and allow their compositions to interact with the environment, molding and shaping them (plasticity!) till they take true physical form within our imaginations. Utilizing electronics, coronet, and “objects,” the duo, sometimes in tense stasis, at others in screamingly harsh shifts, builds incredible, vibrant monoliths that feel both organic and clinical. Whether droning or spiking the EQ meter, Warnecke and Laurain push ever farther into harrowing scientific territory. Maybe their work will result in some kind of breakthrough in advanced physics? You never know.


When they made the movie “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” they blew it when they didn’t hire Nicolas Caloia, Yves Charuest, and Karl Fousek to consult on the soundtrack. Their intricate compositions as a trio would be perfect for any close-up scenes of insects running around the lawn, those entities roaming undetected right beneath the surface and out of our immediate vision. Or maybe they’d be more at home with a nature documentary – I don’t know, I’m not the idea man! “Maps to Hands” builds off their 2018 Mondoj tape “Residual Time” by breaking the ideas down into more bite-sized chunks rather than a live sidelong excursion. Caloia’s double bass and Charuest’s alto sax vibrate against each other, each one flitting lightly against the other while Fousek provides a foundation of electronic sonic experimentation. Or is that the other way around, and Fousek’s flitting lightly over the acoustic instruments? It’s all interplay in the end, so we should probably not worry about it too much. Microscopic chaos resolves into cellular beauty over seven tracks.

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