Jazz fusion is a difficult to understand genre. On one hand, you have the rather straight forward jazz fusion, which is little more than jazz with a rock beat and more rock structure; and then you have the style bordering on free jazz, that has lots of creative flair while sticking to some form of structure, albeit loose, sort of like BADBADNOTGOOD, which was featured earlier this week. While d’arkestra, a progressive jazz fusion band out of Louisville, KY, are not as crazy as the aforementioned BBNG, this 8-piece definitely have some weird qualities, such as a few post-rock qualities, two songs with female vocals, and a eclectic mix of classic jazz sounds and instrumentation, and modern guitar techniques, such as flanger, wah, and the like. In fact, this conglomerate of sound nearly approaches avant-garde levels of weirdness. However, the clash of the sounds and styles work very well on their debut record, Ghost Town.
Take the first song, “Jazzist“, which sounds this mix of sounds right out of the gates. It opens with guitar and drums in 7 in a very fusion style, and retains this feel through the opening part of the song, building upon it with the brass section, which gives it some much needed oomph. Due to the syncopation and the frantic drum playing, the song grooves for days. Guitarist Brandon Coleman shows his unique style, not just on this particular song, but on the album, as he is always performing super interesting leads and unique chord voicings that shouldn’t make a lot of sense in theory, but somehow manage to create nearly unheard of blends of sound.
“Halogen” shows that the group really can do anything, as it opens with something that could be heard from the 1940’s or 50’s, yet transform into a very slow ballad that is quite beautiful. One thing this song highlights is the bands ability to arrange their music similarly to an orchestra. The brass parts are always moving in intelligent ways, sharing the melody between one another while keeping the song together in a cohesive manner. The group is very progressive, approaching each song differently, yet making each sound like their own.
Even though the whole album is full of sweet jams, hard groover “Squares and Squares” steals the show. The song does not have a single bar of four, and it’s so unbelievably full of energy, due to the brass’ excited delivery and the drummer’s nuanced, yet intense playing. It also can’t be overstated how solid the bass player is, and how he’s always right in the pocket.
Overall, this is probably my jazz album of the year. I would recommend it to almost anyone who had an interest in the style, and I would also recommend it to fans of progressive or avant-garde music. From the tracks aforementioned, to the truly haunting “Ghost Town”, which has an The Devil’s Blood meets Worm Ouroboros sound, and to the unique weirdness of the album, it truly is one of my favorite albums of the year, and I encourage you to at least give it a listen with the provided bandcamp stream. Enjoy