Dustin Carlson – Air Ceremony [TrackList follows] – Out of Your Head OOYH002 52:39 [11/9/18] ****:

Guitarist Dustin Carlson’s 52-minute, six-track Air Ceremony is about many things. Carlson’s music shows a fascination with time: how it is perceived, felt, seen and heard; and the name Air Ceremony is reminiscent of music’s temporary and temporal nature: how it is here and gone but can also be around forever. Carlson—who has collaborated with Ches Smith, Matt Mitchell and Anna Webber—created a singular sextet to bring his neo-modernist jazz to life. Carlson’s six-member band includes alto saxophonist Nathanial Morgan (who has worked with trumpeter Joe Moffett, saxophonist Angela Morris, and others); baritone saxophonist Eric Trudel (credits include trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, guitarist Tim Motzer, and more); trumpeter Danny Gouker; keyboardist Matt Mitchell (his background experience includes Tim Berne’s Snakeoil, John Hollenbeck’s Large Ensemble and Claudia Quintet, and others); bassist Adam Hopkins (his extensive resumé includes Henry Threadgill, Hollenbeck, Webber, and other likeminded artists) and drummer Kate Gentile (she has also recorded or done live gigs with Mitchell, Hopkins, and a host of musicians).

Throughout Air Ceremony you can tell these are performers who love to improvise together, especially on lengthier cuts such as “Sun Squelch,” the almost 11-minute opener. In the CD liner notes, Carlson mentions nearly the entire composition maintains one rhythmic duration, “So, it’s definitely about layering, spreading out phrases and shrinking them, macro micro, closing in and opening up.” Morgan’s soloing is a standout. Carlson says Morgan is an ensemble player and soloing, per se, is not what he’s known for. But Morgan’s improvisation over the repeating rhythmic foundation proves he’s an inventive saxophonist. Mitchell’s Prophet 6 synthesizer acts as a virtually avant-garde undercurrent, providing a tension which counterbalances the saxophone’s utterly free release. The tune’s coda showcases how Carlson likes to skew the sense of time: the head out is rearranged and played in half time and altered somewhat.

The 6:27 “For Your Safety and Convenience” has some offbeat source material. First, Carlson looked at a spectrograph of Winchester cathedral bells and sorted out a guitar chord that could be derived from the light-based wavelengths. He then utilized an intricate tuning (CGDGBE). The pieces’ first half began as a solo segment which Carlson re-arranged for quartet; the heavier-sounding second half was influenced by listening to specific doom metal music. Interestingly, Carlson’s guitar is not pyrotechnical (except for the final minute or less). Rather he uses his guitar to echo the bass and trumpet at the same time. This supplies a unique harmonic disposition. Another long track, the 11:20 “Daytime Rituals” concerns natural tempo, such as organic beats or the physical movement of dancers. “Daytime Rituals” has an elaborate blend of order and disorder. There are crosshatched and dissonant slices of synth and guitar; difficult-to-follow drumming and percussion; and horns which are mixed so densely into the arrangement that it’s hard to decipher what they’re sometimes doing. Carlson admits that “Daytime Rituals” is “meant to be heard on the third or fourth listen. I was trying to make something that even I wouldn’t fully understand until I heard it many times. There’s a lot that’s ugly, though I find the harmonies to be beautiful in a multicolored sort of way; each movement for me has its own identity which I like. There’s some humor in there too…”

The album gets more epic on the concluding, 15-minute opus, “Hands that Feed,” which commences with a psychedelic Prophet 6 solo which would not be out of place on an ambient prog rock project. Carlson then enters with a tilted groove riff, and after that the composition turns into an unusual, full-jazz ensemble performance. One highlight is Gouker’s solo which demonstrates his persevering and unrestricted personality. Carlson affirms that often Gouker likes to play himself into a place where Gouker doesn’t even know where he’s going. Listeners can hear as Gouker crafts a trumpet line which seems to go beyond his own inclinations and just follows it anyway. “Hands that Feed” dips into an atmospheric respite near the midpoint, and then wends into chaos. Carlson’s unchecked guitar has the force of three or four different guitars playing at the same time, and the sextet pushes the musical boundaries into an unhampered and huge closing section.

Performing Artists:
Dustin Carlson – guitar; Nathanial Morgan – alto saxophone; Eric Trudel – baritone saxophone; Danny Gouker – trumpet; Matt Mitchell – Prophet 6; Adam Hopkins – bass; Kate Gentile – drums

Sun Squelch
For Your Safety and Convenience
Daytime Rituals
Three Parts In(ter)vention/Lattice Fingers
Hands that Feed

—Doug Simpson

More Information and music samples at Out of Your Head Records website:

Out Of Your Head Records