Last year trumpeter Daniel Rosenboom spearheaded Burning Ghosts—a project whose first album I highly regret not finding about earlier. While there were elements of free jazz and even a little bit of noise (courtesy of some masterful use of playing and effects by guitarist Jake Vossler), it was something entirely its own—angry and critical of the current state of the world, but at the same time transcendentally effervescent and full of top-notch playing. But while we have to wait a little bit for the next Burning Ghosts album (just a few months, actually), there’re some great releases put out by Rosenboom and his musical colleagues that make up a good part of the Orenda Records roster that deserve a shout-out.
Book of Storms came out in 2015, which made me a little hesitant about talking about it in Soundtracks For The Blind, but after spinning it a few times and having my mind blown (seriously—I’m still looking around my room for chunks of brain matter), I decided that Soundtracks isn’t just about experimental and “out there” music that’s come out in the last year or so; it’s about good music; and holy shit is this a listen and a half.
Culled from a live session back in 2015, Book of Storms showcases Rosenboom adding to his Books series (the first being 2013’s Book of Omens) with fellow musicians Vinny Golia (bass clarinet and gongs), Jake Vossler (guitar), Tim Lefebvre (bass, EFX), and Matt Mayhall (drums). The Books series exemplifies Rosenboom’s diverse array of influences, both musical and literary, with this one in particular featuring tracks named after Rajin and Fujin, the Shinto gods of wind and thunder. You can feel those aforementioned spirits float throughout the music of Book of Storms as well—not an easy feat, mind you. A fair amount of so-called “spiritual” music I’ve listened to mostly conveys said themes via obvious sources, like track titles, lyrics and artwork, and, as a result, can often seem a little underwhelming. (When you have something to say, you should have the music say it, after all.) Book of Storms serves as an antithesis of my expectation, from little ways—such as how his trumpet playing flutters like a storm wind or how Vossler’s guitar work adds a thunderous bottom end to the album—to larger ways—like the entire recording’s structure, starting off slow and low and building intensity like a storm. According to Rosenboom’s website, The Books are created “using graphic scores and guided improvisation”, with Book of Storms specifically citing the words “All Out Sky Fury” and “Electric-Sumo-Miles” as inspirations for its sound, and all of this can be heard throughout the thirty-seven minutes of the album. Take the most extreme moments of Bitches Brew (such as Miles’s extreme solo in the first half of “Pharaoh’s Dance” and the softer, sneakier parts of the title track) and glue them together with Japanese mythology, whispers of Zorn’s Moonchild albums and you’ve got a fairly accurate idea of Book of Storms.
But that comparison is only “fairly” accurate—what I perhaps enjoy most about Rosenboom’s music is that he isn’t afraid to wear his influences while also being capable of writing and playing on a highly individualistic level. His work brings a myriad of genres to mind—electronic music, jazz, free improvisation, hard rock that sometimes borders on metal—but when it comes down to the actual composition and performance it becomes something entirely its own, paradoxical and beautiful, like a Zen koan put to music. On this album he proves his performance chops with an approach to trumpet spanning the stylistic gamut—dipping into extended horn techniques for woozy, druggy sections (all while keeping to a whisper piano) and wild, forays (which constantly remind me of Dave Douglas during his Masada years), all the while maintaining a diamond-like precision and a tone nearly as recognizable as that of Miles Davis. On a compositional level, his scores keep every instrument vital to the overall sound. This isn’t simply trumpet riding on top of the wave created by a backing band; every single instrument and sound created adds to the aural vision, even if its as simple as ambient effects courtesy of Lefebvre and Golia. (It’s worth mentioning, though, that Golia’s bass clarinet work adds a balance to the sonic palette displayed here, with his throaty, reedy tone constantly opposing the often warmer and inviting sound of Rosenboom’s trumpet.)
All in all, this is not an album to pass over without at least a fair listen. Graphic notation and controlled (or, in this case, “guided”) improvisation, like any other tool in a musician’s compositional bag of tricks, can be used to structure and create gorgeous pieces of art, but at the end of the day it comes down to the musicians performing it and how they react to the material. Fortunately, Book of Storms has both on its side, in the form of a score that provides a loose (but well-made) structure and some of the best of LA’s musicians at the helm.