Totem

Voices of Grain
New Atlantis CD 007

By Ken Waxman

Advancing the idea of the guitar power trio while subtlety ignoring most of its principles, Totem’s high-quality, second CD forges an individual and more profound path than its more mundane 2008 debut session.

Although snapping guitar runs, sluicing bass continuum and repetative drum beats which define fusion are present on the introductory “Genosong”, the remainder of the disc is angled towards exploring new sound patterns which are much more likely to be heard on an improv session than a (jazz) rock date. Sophisticated players, guitarist Bruce Eisenbeil, bassist Tom Blancarte and drummer Andrew Drury have experience with most modern music variants and the only jazz-rock shibboleth they preserve is boiling excitement created by three instruments playing at full tilt. Even a pseudo-blues like “Towards Jouissance” is elaborated without any overwrought rock-blues excesses. While eminently capable of echoing licks and furious single-string solos, Eisenbeil here instead directs his lines to complement the ruggedly rhythmic undertow from Blancarte’s string scrubs and Drury’s wrenching percussion fills.

But the heart of the session is on tracks such as “Counter Memory” and “Post-Repeating” where the three have more scope to expose novel strategies. Livelier than the rest of the date, the second instant composition is initially so cohesive that it references expected jazz guitar trio conventions. After that though, it’s the miscellaneous percussion accents of Drury that keep the tune linear while the other two work to rip the narrative apart with tremolo guitar echoes plus vibrating friction from the bassist. Evolving in several sequences, “Counter Memory” is both a thematic evocation of ‘60s cop shows plus an intense instance of arena-rock-like heroics, until the band members reveal their tongue(s)-in-cheek(s) intent by exhilaratingly deconstructing the narrative down to staccato atoms.

As good as Voices of Grain is, the CD does have one off-putting feature. Song titles and booklet information are printed in nearly illegible peach letters on a grey background. The disc may be an affront to the eyes, but it’s a treat for the ears.

Tracks: Genosong; Written in the Body; Counter Memory; Towards Jouissance; Message Without a Code; Post-Repeating; Silence On Its Road.

Personnel: Bruce Eisenbeil: guitar; Tom Blancarte: bass; Andrew Drury: drums

—For The New York City Jazz Record February 2014