In my quest to appreciate and understand as many genres as possible, one lingering question reigns supreme: what is jazz? That probably sounds overly Socratic, until you start trying to provide an answer. Is it the presence of brass and woodwinds? That’s hardly unique to jazz, and ignores great bandleaders and musicians like Chick Corea, Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, and countless other stripped-back ensembles. And of course, any argument about specific techniques or compositional structures is thwarted by the wild worlds of avant-garde and free jazz.
I actually don’t have a concrete definition to offer, other than the unsatisfying, “You know it when you hear it.” For me personally, successful jazz ensembles understand the traditions of the genre’s more recognizably “jazzy” roots (big band, bop, etc.) and either updating or disrupting those ideas in bold new ways. GRID certainly don’t fit any traditional definition of jazz, but they exemplify this unofficial criteria that defines my favorite new releases from the genre.
This is the second release from the super-trio of sorts, following their excellent self-titled debut from 2017. The lineup features musicians from diverse musical backgrounds in the Greater NYC scene, including saxophonist Matt Nelson (Battle Trance, Elder Ones), bassist Tim Dahl (Child Abuse, Lydia Lunch Retrovirus), and drummer Nick Podgurski (New Firmament, Feast of the Epiphany). The culmination of their efforts produces another unique collection of free jazz gems on Decomposing Force, which again puts GRID among my favorite jazz groups of the year.
What originally attracted me to GRID was the “doom jazz” label ascribed to their music. Like any off-kilter genre tag, I was initially skeptical and prepared myself for a misnomer or ineffective gimmick. Granted, I should have put more faith in the project given the musicians involved, and indeed the trio created the closest thing synthesis of free jazz and doom metal I’ve encountered. Nelson is an excellent saxophonist and demonstrates as much on Decomposing Force, unleashing every technique of the subgenre fans crave. It’s the rhythm section locked down by Dahl and Podgurski that adds a new dimension to the trio’s sound. Their instrumental contributions couples a noise rock background with the pace, heaviness, and intensity of doom metal thanks to their interplay with Nelson’s eclectic performances.
The beauty of Decomposing Force is how the band evolves a linear pattern of destruction. At the onset, “Brutal Kings” hosts just under five minutes of aggressive free jazz perfectly in line with the aforementioned formula. Each member of the trio operates a high-level individually, and they coalesce to create some well-orchestrated cacophony. As the album progresses, the remaining three tracks devolve into a full embrace of the darkest, noisiest aspects of the group’s sound. By the time listeners arrive at “Cold Sleep,” they’re amid a twisting vortex of sound. It closes the chapter on an abrasive but alluring album, which remains as impressive on the first listen as it does with each subsequent visit.
Decomposing Force is a dense release, and as such, it’s difficult to capture the album’s full impact with words on a page. That’s partially why I advocate for those reading this to experience the album firsthand, but also because I want a broad group of listeners to experience what GRID have to offer. Their sound is unique and touches on a wide breadth of sounds that should appeal to equally diverse musical tastes. For fans of experimental rock, jazz, and noise, this is a perfect storm you won’t have the ability or desire to escape from.
Decomposing Force is available now via NNA Tapes.