POWER TRIO DISPLAYS SENSE OF HUMOR
WHILE FABRICATING BIG SOUND
By any measure, Brainkiller is a decidedly different kind of power trio, and on multiple levels. To start with, this bright, technically adroit, progressive, and witty threesome does its musical bidding with the unconventional instrumentation of trombone, keyboards (mostly an electric piano sound palette) and drums, plus an inherently flexible attitude. And the musical style menu carves out its own paths of difference and distinction, between progressive jazz, avant-garde-ish touches, and also a will to rock, on its own uncharted terms.
The sound made by the impressively accomplished, adventure-minded trombonist Brian Allen, his longtime ally keyboardist Jacob Koller – whose original version of Brainkiller was as a duo, going back to 2000 – and now joined by the mightily versatile Mexico City-based drummer Hernan Hecht, is boldly put forth on the trio’s debut album The Infiltration, on the UK-based label RareNoiseRecords. In short, it is like nothing you’ve ever quite heard, and will want to hear again, and again. Theirs is a sophisticated and witty musical approach, full of tautly-navigated lines and song structures, but also with a visceral power train and rock-piston-driven energy, and the occasional lyrical aside.
Brainkiller, as a trio, makes an impressive recording debut. In this small but large-minded ensemble, Allen mixes up his crisp technical bravura and extended techniques and sonic scampering on his instrument, while Koller experiments with tone and guitar-like distortion, filling any imagined need for bassist or other voice in the mix, and Hecht applies alternating currents of groove, unison lines, space and freedom. Together, they create a distinctive trio sound which places them in the field of unconventional trios, a short list including the Bad Plus and another trombone-led threesome, BassDrumBone, spearheaded by trombonist Ray Anderson. Not surprisingly, the avant-wit Anderson has been a hero of Allen’s, going back to his high school days in a small town in Texas.
Fittingly, and dramatically, The Infiltration opens with Koller’s bracing tune “U Can’t Stop Z Train,” an intense yet also elastic tune, retooled from an earlier version from the old Allen-Koller duo. Koller’s compositional powers are also demonstrated on “Gilberto’s Fantastical Safari,” a kind of mini-epic suite which packs multiple sections, moods and degrees of tongue-in-cheek levity into its 4:04 duration.
As for the backstory on the song, or its curious title, Allen admits “We don’t really talk about anything specific, but I know that we both think pretty cinematic, we think visually. When we’re writing, we kind of envision things a lot, some kind of movements. The titles came at the last minute, when we needed something to call them. While we were rehearsing, Hernan would make suggestions as to the small details and arrangements of the compositions. He’s very meticulous.
“We were looking at finding a balance. The last song, `Last Mask’ is something that I wrote the day before the recording session, because we felt like we needed something along those lines, to balance out the really aggressive stuff.”
One example of said aggressive stuff is Allen’s intricate and almost Zappa-esque “Pianer,” the quirky title of which represents the tweaking of language – musical and otherwise – also found in the weirdly meditative “Eepy,” A revision of an old tune of his called “Creepy.” Allen explains, “I had to call it something else, and I kind of liked the name, just looking at it like that – `Eepy.'”
This album also revels in the power in miniatures, short pieces by Allen which convey a single idea or impression or compacted concept. “Spider” swerves from Brazilian-esque contours to free playing and , while “Ice Fishing” is a cooler, impressionistic tone poem, and the pocket-sized headbanger “Michaelsketch” moves from free range trombone wailing to a lumbering rock groove geared around Koller’s bass riff and a behind-the-backbeaten backbeat.
Although Allen has studied in various higher learning academic situations and interacted with important musicians in the left-end jazz scene, and has been acclaimed for his instrumental mastery, it all started humbly, an hour south of Houston, with that endangered species – a strong public school music program. He remembers that “the jazz program that we had at the schools was really incredible. I was exposed to some of those people and I had some good teachers, early on, who would lend me Ray Anderson CDs, for example, and a lot of stuff. I just devoured it all.”
Still, he says, “it was kind of in a vacuum. I didn’t really know what was cool or what was fashionable. Growing up feeling isolated, I put together things in my own way. For better or worse, that’s just a big part of who I am, and I think Jacob, too. We both met at this camp in Banff, Canada. We were both kind of like misfits in our own respective communities, and trying to go to this place and hopefully meet other people who had interests in things like Anthony Braxton music or Ellery Eskelein or whatever. It’s a really small community of people that are spread out, sometimes.”
All told, Brainkiller’s eclecticism comes naturally, for musicians with ears and minds open to multiple inspirations and playing situations. “It’s not like we ever planned it,” Allen says of the trio’s eclectic nature, “but we like a lot of different kinds of music, a lot of different genres. So that kind of all goes together. It feels like something that’s happening, and we’re into that.”
On the audience end of the agenda, he points out that “we’re not really thinking about targeting one specific group – like, for instance, a modern jazz crowd. We were never interested in doing that. We wanted to play for as many different situations and people as possible, for people who would like it.” That list could include avant-garde jazz fans, post-prog-rockers, and anyone with an ear for something new and artful, while accessible.
Allen himself has played with Braxton, studied and played with Eskelin and Roswell Rudd, and was in a trio with Tony Malaby and Tom Rainey. “I identify with certain qualities of avant-garde music,” he says, “but as much as the blues or other kinds of experimental traditions. I would say so, and I still play, from time to time, some of those people. I don’t really think about it too much, the name of things. I just kind of gravitate towards certain people and certain sounds, and things that they’re doing.”
With its debut out, and another album in the works, Brainkiller is poised to find its audience – or audiences – wherever interesting, aesthetically free range and wittily rocking jazz sounds are sought out and nurtured. Logistically, there are challenges, as Allen says “we all have a lot of different bands. But it’s something that we all want. We’re making sacrifices to make it happen, because we do believe in it, and we’ve slowly but surely made a lot of progress over the years. It definitely is a priority, and a big focus, for all three of us.”
Brainkiller · The Infiltration
RareNoiseRecords · Release Date · May 17, 2011
For further information on Brainkiller, visit: http://www.rarenoiserecords.com
..:: SOURCE: DL Media ::..