Astral Spirits cassette and download
This brutal, beautiful album of solo double bass explorations is the first I’ve heard from Brandon Lopez since ‘Holy Holy’, his fantastic trio with Chris Corsano and Sam Yulman on Tombed Visions last year. It ain’t half good to get acquainted again. Across eight tracks, Lopez lays out a masterclass in how an artist can achieve mind-mangling synergies with their instrument, his shamanistic absorption in his playing resulting in a thrilling voyage through low-end meditation (‘vanitas’), pugilist jolting grooves (‘Lamed’) and clouds of nervy plucks (‘Lay’).
Throughout, Lopez deploys a musical grammar drawn from European free improvisation, free jazz and and avant-garde composition to thrilling effect. Whether it’s totally improvised or follows some structuring principles in the manner of ‘Holy Holy’ isn’t exactly clear. Lopez has both the looseness and focus of a seasoned improviser, while retaining the precision of a head accustomed to arranging notes on a page. Not that it matters, really. What’s key is how these creations exert a force that holds our concentration and keeps us totally in the moment.
In ‘Gruppo’, this aural magnetism is in place from the very start, with a series of small, abrasive, almost-acousmatic sounds that transmute into jittery, keening waves, their squealing whine accompanied by some Jarrett-in-the-orchestra-pit grunts and papery scuffs. An abrupt lull halfway through – is it too much to call it a drop? – emphasises Lopez’s instinctive sense of dynamics. His rodent scurries add space and texture, giving us space to take a breath before he stirs things up again, with a final burst of wide-open sawing that’s as grisly as it is euphoric.