Review Summary: Music means something else to these guys.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, As Tall As Lions was one of the most intricate bands this world as heard. They were perfectionist. Careful placement of ambient percussion and horns helped stitch the threads of their music and give us a sound that was deeply layered. One can only imagine the painstaking process to of form fitting subtle piano lines into a cacophony of palms hitting guitar cases. This was only one example from their song “Circles” off their final album. This approach to music composition is radical to today’s musicians given the general populations lack of, oh how do I say it, “musical ear”. Ambient sounds are just not something radio listeners want or care to hear and it was As Tall As Lions who said it best when a producer told them their song “Ghost of York” could be a hit. I’ll paraphrase because it was at their farewell show in Chicago that I heard them and unfortunately I didn’t have a pen handy, “Sometimes you have to deny your own success to make what you want.” What they wanted was perfection and it was this push for perfection that ultimately led to their demise.
It was amidst a lengthy farewell tour that stretched from New York to LA and then to Australia that we were given a glimpse of what was next for the members of lions. And while a jam band is a rather ambiguous way to describe the music of bassist Julio Taverez, Guitarist Sean Fitzgerald, drummer Cliff Sarcona, and keyboard/trumpet player Duncan Tootil it is the most honest and pure description for their music. And purity is what they were looking for when they began this endeavor; believing there is a purity to music that is captured in the moment. That last bit was taken directly off their website. This all sounded beautiful and artistic yet I still begged to know how members of a band infatuated with perfection, that drew into the inner most depths of their wills for a sound that met their unreachable standards, could dismiss it all for a clean slate and a go at the improv?
Then I listened to the music. EP ONE accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do: tell us who Kilimanjaro is. They are not flashy, they are not perfect, and they certainly are not going to be bothered with anything as trivial as song titles. It is all about the music for this four- piece but what is their music? Plain and simple it is jam rock with an overwhelming jazz influence. Alright I’ll shave off the fat; it’s jam jazz. But what does that even mean? It means they love to roam around with their instruments. Forget song structure. Forget choruses and interludes. Forget lyrics! This is what Kilimanjaro is. They are no longer concerned with perfection and are now separating themselves from their past works in the most radical way possible. Maybe it’s bitterness from the end of a long journey as As Tall As Lions or perhaps it is the desire for something else; to let the music speak for itself and let the listener live in the moment with them.
These six songs are essentially one song just broken up by track numbers that begins with, you guessed it, ambient sounds that become a backdrop to Duncan Tootil’s horn and Cliff Sarcona’s drums. By the second “track” we are fully exploring what Kilimanjaro can do when they “let their hair down”, but it is really just the unraveling of the potential that existed behind every painstakingly planned As Tall As Lions track. We knew it was there by the time the Into The Flood EP came out and thought it all came out for the release of Your Can’t Take it With you. Boy, were we wrong. Where tracks like “Duermete” showed off the band’s skillful jazz work they also brought the album to a skidding halt that took away from the momentum tracks like “Circles” and “Sixes and Sevens” had made. The album was more a hodgepodge of genres than a collective capture of one sound done perfectly. But there is no flirting with genre changes on EP ONE. We know what we are getting from the beginning and it all gets better as the band jams for about 14 minutes weaving the listener in and out of bombastic horns, cool bass lines, and a guitar that features more ambient effects than technical playing.
But why the shift away from the soft arpeggiated chords and beautiful melodies that characterized the sound of these four gentlemen for the better half of a decade? Why the change to something that lacks the perfection they spent so long searching for? Simply put, it is because music means something else to them now. It means living in the moment and sharing it with their audience. I wonder what that executive would say to that.