As of late, jazz and metal have begun to fuse themselves into new and interesting combinations. Aeneon’s album Hypnosophy wowed a lot of the Heavy Blog staff at the tail of 2016, and Nick’s recent HLT on the band VIRTA is proof enough that there are a lot of forward-thinking metal acts bringing in elements from outside the genre in unique ways.
However, I’ve had a hard time getting into any of these bands. I think a lot of this has to do with the jazz a lot of prog metal bands use—they often integrate a sort of jazz fusion that, while compositionally interesting and technically proficient, comes off to me as a bit too smooth and even a little saccharine at times. Aeneon rests on the other side of the spectrum, as it’s more like they play metal, but with a few jazz elements thrown in. Again, they aren’t horrible by any means, but their music isn’t something I’d listen to more than once.
However, I think that Burning Ghosts is the band I’ve been looking for all this time. Hailing from LA, and signed to the experimental independent label Orenda Records, Burning Ghosts brings everything in jazz I like—lots of passionate, full-bodied playing and tons of free improvisation—and mixes it with metal. The group is a quartet, featuring trumpeter Daniel Rosenboom (who is also the founder of Orenda Records), guitarist Jake Vossler, bassist Richard Giddens, and drummer Aaron McLendon. This lineup alone makes me pretty excited—it’s a something you don’t see a whole lot. Usually when there’s a band crossing these genres, a saxophone player is usually part of the personnel (VIRTA being an exception to the rule). Having a trumpet take that spot stirs the pot a little bit, so to speak—it offers sounds and techniques of jazz that you don’t hear a whole lot.
To describe Burning Ghosts’s sound is a little difficult, honestly; they’re one of those bands that blends the gritty edge and heaviness of metal with the passion of jazz into something completely their own. If I had to, I’d say that they take a little bit of what White Suns does—that is, play a sort of noise rock with a unique emphasis on noise—and mix that with Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis. I can’t honestly say how much of the band’s music is improvised or not—though it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that it’s completely improvised—but there’s a significant element of freedom and abstraction to the music. The instruments don’t feel confined to their normal duties (i.e. bass guitar and drums only exist to keep rhythm, etc.)—they each take control at one time or another, which keeps things fresh. Rosenboom’s trumpet playing also reminds me a lot of Dave Douglas (of Masada fame)—full of heart, but also willing to dive into a bit of insanity, with squeals and various extended techniques.
Then there’s the political edge to these guys. In his review of the band, S. Victor Aaron (of Something Else Reviews), described Burning Ghosts, in a sense, as “the Rage Against the Machine of jazz,” which, the more I think about it, seems pretty apt. There’s a distinct hint of social justice and political outcry with this band, but it’s not in a Neil Young-beat-you-over-the-head-with-political-ideology kind of way. If anything, their music is an instrumental song of hope; just listen to the beginning track of their self-titled debut, “Anthem”, where Vossler’s guitar creates this incredible wall of noise in the background while Rosenboom wears his heart on his sleeve in some of the most passionate trumpet playing I’ve ever heard. It’s unconsciously saying (to me, anyway—feel free to agree or disagree) that, yes, there is a lot of horrible bullshit going on in the world, but we can still rise up and be the better people, and make a change. They aren’t complaining about the political climate of the world as much as they’re just doing something about it, albeit in their own way.
So, if you want metal and jazz fused together that isn’t full-on Jaga Jazzist-esque prog, that can get nitty gritty when it wants to be, that sounds like really nothing you’ve ever heard, I highly, highly suggest checking out Burning Ghosts. If I had known about this band earlier, I can almost guarantee that this would be on my top ten of 2016.