As inspirations for concept albums go, basing an entire record on the story of a hoarder called George Bell who died in 2015 but wasn’t discovered in his home for over a week doesn’t sound promising. But the source of a creative enterprise can sometimes come from surprising places, and this release from Chicago drummer and percussionist Mike Reed is living and breathing proof of that.
In January last year he formed The Separatist Party from a group of musicians steeped in Chicago’s experimental and improvised music community. The purpose of the coming together, to take the concepts of loneliness and isolation and create music that would create a form of synthesis and sympathy with those ideas.
To be blunt, this is jazz, and in true jazz style the musicians involved need to be named: cornetist Ben LaMar Gay, poet and spoken word artist Marvin Tate, Rob Frye (sax/flute/percussion), Cooper Crain (guitar/synth) and Dan Quinlivan (synth) - all members of Bitchin Bajas. The plan is to make three albums pulling in various other musicians to deal with themes of inner and outer human isolation. This is number one in that series.
The nine tracks on the album are a mix of spoken-word and instrumental jams. They range from the angular, improvised end of things, right up to the spiritual. The music can be challenging at times, time signatures are non-conventional and the production is certainly unique, but the playing is tight. Ambitious solos come and go, but never outstay their welcome, the musicianship is front and centre but never showy.
Lead track ‘Your Soul’ is that kind of album opener that grabs the attention. It’s that ‘what is this?’ moment. Part hollered, part sung, part spoken, Tate’s words flow across the almost playful instrumental underbelly. Apparently the backing is formed by inverting bass parts from some older songs. Whatever the process, the result is an ‘off’ sound, not conventional by any means but seriously engaging and demanding attention.
‘A Low Frequency Nightmare’ covers off the more headspace jazz side of things, competing saxophones and trancelike drums and bass create a hypnotic ensemble piece. ‘We Came To Dance’ has more Marvin Tate verse, this time over a minimalist drum pattern turning it into a modern incantation.
Flute solos drift across the brushed drums and deep saxophone accompaniment in ‘Floating with an Intimate Stranger’ creating a mellow bridge into the album’s later reaches. There is more poetry on ‘Hold Me, Hold Me’, its anger and righteous message is abruptly countered by the sweeping soundtrack sensibility of ‘Our Own Love Language’. The album closes with more of Frye’s flute, its sweeping subtlety juxtaposed with the more throbbing tone of LaMar Gay’s horn. It’s a suitably expansive end to an album full of surprises and awakenings. As Tate says on the opening track - ‘Your Soul is a Mosh Pit’. So, why not jump in?