I have a friend of mine to thank for this review happening. Originally, I skipped over this submission after hearing the first few seconds of the first track, “Bitter Era.” After a day of listening to submissions that, while not necessarily bad, were not my cup of joe, my brain was fried and my nerves shot. From progressive bands that didn’t progress to pop bands with no pop, I was tired, and I wanted some ear candy, something easy. Those first twenty seconds were a bit too cerebral for me, so on I went to the next submission.
It wasn’t until a month later while at the abode of the aforementioned amigo that I got my wake-up call. We were showing each other our recent musical finds when I decided to open the ITR? email inbox and start combing. Nothing really piqued our interest until we got to Mapache. I warned him that the beginning was a little rough and played the album. Thirty seconds in, he called me a moron for not writing these guys up. I couldn’t argue.
Enough history. Review time.
Okay, so I honestly don’t know what I could or should say about these guys. Typically, I like talking about the structure of the music as well as the similarities I find shared with other artists, but I really have no idea where to start with JAT.
Next, I’m not really sure how to classify them. Are they jazzy math rock? Or maybe they’re mathy jazz (rock?).
For my own curiosity, I asked Jorge (the band) what their influences were (among a slew of other questions), and got a response from Jorge (the man) in which among his cited influences were Arnold Schoenberg and Charles Mingus. Now I start to get it. For those unfamiliar, check out those links. Any musician worth his weight in cassettes should know who both artists are. Schoenberg was an expressionist composer of the early 20th century, while Mingus existed more towards the middle of the century as a jazz composer. Both were hugely influential to their respective movements. As a matter of fact, Schoenberg was responsible for a lot of major developments in atonality, and for the conception of the twelve-tone technique, which were prominent features of music in the early twentieth century. Mingus is often regarded as the successor of Duke Ellington with his incredible compositional abilities and unique style. If you haven’t already made the connection, listen to Mapache as well as the Schoenberg and Mingus pieces above. I wouldn’t necessarily claim that these two composers are Jorge’s (the band or the man) biggest influences, but you can certainly hear some similarity.
If you’re both unfamiliar with the two and unable/unwilling to check them out, I’ll do my best to describe my rationale for the comparison. JAT dabbles fiercely with tonality and the lack thereof. The cerebral quality in “Bitter Era” that I referred to earlier is just that. The melodic structure is unabashedly coarse and dissonant. Texturally, you can take from them what you want. Each of the instruments functions just as well on its own as it does in conjunction with the ensemble. Not one is afraid to go off and do his thing; like true jazz musicians, each individual thing is still beyond fully functional as a part to amass to a greater whole. You get a real sense of an improv jazz band, which I personally find impressive on a (presumably) rehearsed and recorded album. Compositionally, the album is a bit of a beast. Dissonance is elevated to an artform. If you like consonance, if you look for your standard one-four-five-one, if you like sweet and smooth, go home. This is not a cry from the Ivory Tower; as I said at the beginning, I switched it off after a very cursory listening, simply because I wasn’t in the mood. If you’ll allow me to remove my scarf and horn-rimmed glasses for a moment, I’d like to make mention that I can indulge in Penderecki and Oliveros for their musicality. I’m not afraid of the abstruse or unconventional; I do, however like a warning. This is that.
The Jorge Arana Trio takes a very agressive approach to jazz in Mapache. This isn’t easy listening. This isn’t coffee shop music (or at the very least, not the music of any coffee shop I’ve yet been to). As I was saying, this is dissonance on steroids. If you plan on listening, you need to go in knowing you won’t always get the resolution you want. JAT will tease you, and they’re very good at it. They will grab you, throw you around the scale, throw you out of the scale, yank you back in, and beat your brains in before they resolve their progressions, if they resolve their progressions.
Another admirable trait is their progressiveness. I guess it goes without saying that a jazz band with such modernist influence is going to be progressive. Even with that expectation, even with this organized chaos, you would anticipate some themes, some motifs, some revisitation.
Needless to say, I’ve taken a long time to write this review. In that time, I’ve listened to this album quite a few times. The closest it comes to being repetitive is in its final track, “Ether,” in which the guitar/bass/keyboard motif can be heard through most of the track. Even still, in the closing track, in what should be the resolution to all the madness, the breaking of the storm, the consonance that we’ve so badly desired and quite frankly have earned from the beginning, they hold out on us. The guitar and drums go nuts from start to finish. While they might make it easier at some points than others, the sole purpose of such is to hook you in to bring you along for the ride. And what a ride it is. This is easy listening, isn’t it? (Please refer to the above image.) The melody is more tangible, maybe. The disorder is still there, though. All of it. The motif gives the impression of smooth(er) jazz without pulling any punches.
Okay, okay. Even the last track is intense. Surely, it’ll end on a major chord, right? It has to end on something consonant, something sweet, something resolute. It simply must.
Please refer to the above image one more time.
So…? So I’ve said a lot of things. I’ve made a lot of references to a lot of dead musicians that aren’t exactly familiar to the layman. I talked nonstop about dissonance. I basically told you that this music is good for reasons that I understand and you wouldn’t because I’m cultured and you’re all philistines and blah blah blah look at me I studied music.
One of my biggest fears in life is showing someone music I admire, and seeing that they can’t appreciate it. Seriously. Devastating. A lot of the time, should one not appreciate it, it is because he was not adequately prepared to listen to the music. It’s like really good hot sauce. When you find a sauce with good flavor and good heat, you want to share it. You can’t just pour it on your buddy’s food without at least telling him first, though. In the same way, you don’t turn up Glassjaw while he’s napping. It’s just not fair, and he’ll be trained to hate it. Just as a good hot sauce might make you tear up a bit, JAT may take you out of your comfort zone. It will do so with good cause, though. It might hurt at first, but it’ll feel good by the end. That’s why Mapache gets four kegs.
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