Album Review: JOYFULTALK – Familiar Science: a dazzling alt-jazz beat connection.

Cover by Jay Crocker

The Breakdown

An album of almost bewildering scope: expansive, explosive, progressive, purposeful and open for discovery.
Constellation Records 9.0

Multi-disciplinary artist, composer and musician Jay Crocker (JOYFULTALK lead-protagonist) works with combinations and reactions, fusing elements with care and microscopic attention to create the surprising but coherent. The last impressive JOYFULTALK release for Constellation, ‘A Separation Of Being’, took the chiming gamelan complexity, ringing peals of electronica and turbulent strings, then scaled things up to neo-symphonic levels. Now the Crocker/JOYFULTALK intersection are back with a third album for the Canadian label, ‘Familiar Science’ (available from May 6th), to plunge deeper into the tides of fluency and experimentation.

This time around Crocker has touched base with the deep heritage of assemblage in jazz, stretching from Miles-Teo Marcero innovation to Mackaya Macraven’s new beat tapestries, except on ‘Familiar Science’ his approach is much more layered than linear, not so much cut and paste, more mix, match and mould. Starting with beats generated in his home studio and recordings of Eric Hamelin’s free flow drum work outs, Crocker dug out the rhythmic channels for this next JOYFULTALK project. The detail and definition of the ‘Familiar Science’ tunes were meticulously stirred and sprinkled into the flow from a combination of the established JOYFULTALK band contributions alongside archival improv sessions, the latter featuring the mercurial playing of Calgary multi-reedist, the late Dan Meichel. The result is an album of almost bewildering scope, expansive, explosive and undeniably dazzling alt-jazz.

Opener ‘Body Stone’ sets out the heady ambition that JOYFULTALK aims for on the record. Introduced by ethereal twists of synth and haunting vocals, a drum rolled, cranked up bass drone soon provides the heavy lifting while Crocker’s descending guitar distortion duels with some elusive sax lines. It’s a sound that seems to congeal as you listen but is in no way formless. As the swirling choir returns before the final beats stutter you recognise that this intangible new music evolves within a structure – it is shaped to have an accessible, recurring impact.

That’s not to say that ‘Familiar Science’ relies only on scale or density to make an impression. The title track itself is more exposed, the precision mechanics of its lurching funk drive on show from the replicating slice of the central guitar pattern to the lolloping trundle of the bass. Early era Laswell springs to mind but JOYFULTALK’s configuration conjures up a surprise sax breakdown plus some inspired levity, as the backing vocals ‘coo’ and retro synth lines revel in pop pastiche. Like so much of the intuitive decision making on the album it’s a perfect move.

The lengthy ‘Take It To The Grave’ provides further indication of the significance of Crocker’s achievements on this record. Industrial in strength, it’s a tune powered from a foundry of scorching locomotive beats that wrestle with his lithesome harmolodic guitar. Clattering, weighty and propulsive, the tune references the relentless rush of prime James Blood Ulmer but with surges of post punk forward momentum. As the percussion takes over the throbbing final minutes you can’t avoid getting swept along by this darkest of carnival processions.

‘Hagiography’ goes further down the subterranean route, free-falling with the frenetic combination of the Hamelin and Meichel extemporised material. Here the complex meshing of these twin energies show Crocker’s exceptional skills as a mixer/composer, as he steers the storm to it’s final keening sax and synth resolve. He draws on Meichel’s sax again on the explosively effervescent ‘Particle Riot’, this time entangling it with a furious gamelan- toned electronic rhythm. It’s a brain- scrambling , hyperactive blast , how you’d imagine parts of Miles’s ‘On The Corner’ might have been re-versioned if techno had been around at the time.

The overall frantic pace of ‘Familiar Science’ also makes room for some well-placed decompression. Two of these tracks feature long-time JOYFULTALK collaborator Nicola Miller adding vibrant sax and flute details. On ‘Ballad in 9’ that sax yearns with melodic suggestions around a pool of jazz choral crooning but it’s her sprightly flute and alto lead on the distinctly fourth world leaning ‘Blissed For A Minute’ which stands out. Finally for a poignant closer ‘Stop Freaking Out!’, JOYFULTALK return to the familiar, a ‘straight’ combo sound with Crocker’s clean, fluent guitar lines in subtle conversation with a gossiping bass. Broken only by a skittering, agitated drum mid –section, the track makes a final gentle connection with the roots of this exceptional record, the Calgary jazz/improv scene and maybe finds Crocker re-imagining his place within it.

Progressive and purposeful, ‘Familiar Science’ never sets out to be a mystery. It has a flow and thread, shaped by kaleidoscopic influences but with a clear focus on getting you involved. An an open book then, recommended for discovery.

Get your copy of ‘Familiar Science’ by JOYFULTALK from your local record store or direct from:

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