The second album from legendary drummer Dylan Ryan in new incarnation Sand, Circa is a perfect blend of sonic palettes that sees worlds collide in completely unexpected harmony. It’s yet another example of Cuneiform’s ability to surprise with each release.
Opener ‘Trees, Voices, Saturn’ is jazz music living out a guitar hero fantasy – and it only gets better from here. The trio weaves hard rock and free jazz so seamlessly that it’s hard to separate into constituent parts. As a listener, stepping out of the box is easy when the resulting music is this riveting. As a musician, it takes a hell of a lot of talent – and a lot of experience to know how to wield it – to balance technical execution with the needs of a song. By and large, this work nails it.
‘Possession’ contains a thunderous distortion of guitars, appropriately heavy for a group more dedicated to the dark arts than to jazz. Higher notes intrude halfway through to tap out an urgent telegram like a panicked bird. ‘Visionary Fantasy’ starts as a Melvins-esque sludge track before descending into lounge jazz, climbing back up into something more space-age and expansive. Only ‘Pink Noir’ starts and ends as its title implies.
This varied and ultimately pretty moshable range of jams conjures up Mike Patton’s post-Faith No More projects – at least in those elements which conform to a hard rock aesthetic, such as the powerful closer ‘Raw Rattle’. In more meditative moments, such as ‘Slow Sculpture’ and the aforementioned ‘Pink Noir’, the tone and arrangement are reminiscent of those found on Charles-Eric Charrier’s latest work.
Perhaps the collection’s spontaneity is the place one could find flaw – some tracks, for all their mastery and self-contained atmospheres, are sadly fleeting. On first listen one wishes for a slightly longer running time. ‘Sledge Tread’ is discord perfectly executed yet brief, while the blues funk workout of ‘Mortgage On My Soul’ runs a little too long. But even at two minutes, ‘Night Sea Journey’ is involving and complete.
A press quote mentions that the trio captures the visceral and intellectual qualities from both rock and jazz camps. It’s hard to argue the point. This is truly energising stuff, with both worlds sparking off each other, starting a blaze in mind and body. If the group were a little more calculating in their execution the price would be this very immediacy and energy; any more moderation would rob the record of its unique character.
It’s rare to find music so diverse in influences that retains a character of its own. Isn’t this what draws one away from mainstream music in the first place – the promise of hearing something genuinely new? And this record delivers. While the source material is drawn from well-trodden ground, the most progression occurs where its diversities meet. There’s enough here to sway the unconvinced, and so many facets shine that the angle of approach doesn’t matter – chances are, you’ll find something to love here. (Wesley Freeman-Smith)