Review Summary: The Jazzallax II.
Back in 2012, Trioscapes enraptured the modern prog scene with the ‘70s jazz-rock worship of Separate Realities
. The trio’s sonically volatile debut had all the unrestrained looseness and grit of classic fusion, but also (as ensured under the leadership of bassist Dan Briggs) unfolded to reveal a ‘prog-minded’ agenda (i.e. intricately layered sounds that projected an affinity for the same cerebral weirdness and sci-fi theatrics that Between the Buried and Me hold on to like dear life). Songs like the space-age jazzer “Curse of the Ninth” and the maze-like mystifier “Separate Realities,” exhibited a kind of unbridled creativity that pushed the boundaries of musical extremism and culminated in the fruition of potent fusion that sounded like Weather Report’s synth-laden futurism colliding with the sonic onslaught of The Mahavishnu Orchestra. Even “wazzlejazzlebof," an awkwardly structured experiment rooted in ‘60s avant-garde, showcased its own fair share of eloquence. Saxophionist Walter Fancourt in particular, dominated the track with a versatility in style that exhibited influences from Yusef Lateef’s eclectic and arabian-tinged melodies to Coltrane’s high-pitched wails of vivacity.
Now comes Digital Dream Sequence
, a sequel that I personally found difficult to wrap my head around. For the most part, Digital Dream Sequence
plays like it was designed to virtually mirror Separate Realities
’ sound. Immediately as the title track opens the album, the feeling of déja vu is impossible to shake off. Much like in “Blast Off," Trioscapes spare no time in exhibiting their music power by playing at maximum volume and tempo in “Digital Dream Sequence.” In fact, it’s pretty much a long period of dynamic extremes. Other tracks like “Stab Wounds” and “Hysteria” continue along a similar cycle of musical buildup and release. They’re like compact, ‘avant-fusion’ symphonies where the trio disassemble the rhythmic and melodic framework at whim, and basically treat each piece like an open canvas for intricate melodies and solos that mold into a claustrophobic and even dizzying surge of sound. Granted, these are earth-shattering tracks that make the virtuosic competence of the individual musicians abundantly clear (seriously, Dan Briggs sounds like he’s getting possessed by John McLaughlin with that solo near the end of “Stab Wounds,” and Walter Fancourt’s range never ceases to astound throughout the album), but there’s very little else to take away that wasn’t already heard in Separate Realities
Digital Dream Sequence
delivers another impressive display of space-age fusion, no doubt about it, but like its predecessor, it's too reliant on grandiose virtuosity and hyperactive movements that are constantly compromising the album's degree of accessibility. I understand that one of the reasons that makes Trioscapes so appealing to today’s prog-heads and tech-metal fanatics is that they specialize in the kind of balls-to-the-wall wailing that makes The Inner Mounting Flame
sound like Time Out
in comparison, but a band can’t succeed on an artistic level shuttling between dynamic extremes alone. I mean, yes, volume, energy and virtuosity are pretty much synonymous with jazz fusion (a stereotype analogous to the relationship between dubstep and “wubs”), but toning down the dynamic extremes and allowing the music to flow in a natural and more melodic fashion, provides a greater range and makes room for more creative potential (albums like Hot Rats
and No Mystery
being a testament to that).
“The Jungle” and “From the Earth to the Moon,” while never really forgoing the flash or pretension of the other tracks, do show Trioscapes stepping in the right direction by trending towards more layered, eloquent and vaguely
surreal compositions. “The Jungle” is a 15-minute extravaganza of progressive jazz, and by far the best track in the album. Like “Separate Realities” before it, “The Jungle” constantly shifts in mood, volume and tempo, only this time Trioscapes deliver much more than complex structures. There’s a nuanced production to “The Jungle,” encompassing a redefined ‘loud-soft-loud’ dynamic that gives the music an odyssey-like feel, but performed with impeccable fluidity. “From the Earth to the Moon” is a bit more dimensional. It’s a mind-bending mélange of world-fusion and schizophrenic jam-rock (think ‘Mysterious Traveller
-era Weather Report jamming with Frank Zappa's band from Waka/Jawaka
'). There are enough instances in Digital Dream Sequence
that exhibit growth in the trio’s songwriting, but it's still a bit too reliant on past aesthetics. Trioscapes are showing signs of change though, they’re faint, but if they keep pursuing new directions and mature even further as a band, their next album could be the culmination of everything they've been working towards. This, for now, feels like a stepping stone to that.