Tribal Tech


Compass Confusion


Making electronic music is very different from live improvisation—so much so that few musicians have even tried to bring the two together. On one side, Kurt Rosenwinkel’s side project Bandit 65 makes brilliant electronic free improv, mostly using guitar-based technology; on the other, Mark Giuliana’s Beat Music builds arresting collages out of loops, samples, and electronic percussion, but at the cost of improvisational space.

Junk Magic, keyboardist Craig Taborn’s plugged-in side project, comes down the middle. Whereas Taborn presented the first Junk Magic album in 2004 as a solo project, it’s now an actual band, and the five of them play that way. But Taborn also uses effects and post-production to alter the sound of that band, making the music bigger, richer, and more otherworldly.

Compass Confusion is deeply invested in texture and timbre. There may be individual lines within each piece, but they’re like threads in a fabric; what we notice most is the whole. Mat Maneri’s mournful viola lines on “Dream and Guess” are never entirely foregrounded, either on their own or in counterpoint with Chris Speed’s tenor; they remain just another part of the dark, reverberant soundscape alongside Taborn’s misty synths and David King’s echoing drums. The music is often dark—“The Science of Why Devils Smell Like Sulfur” isn’t just a song title—but there’s joy too, whether in the jittery, slightly off-balance pulse that emerges from the electronic flotsam of “Sargasso” or the determinedly funky groove that eventually takes over “Laser Beaming Hearts.” Junk Magic may not be the ultimate solution to jazz’s difficulties with electronica, but it’s definitely one of the best answers so far. J.D. CONSIDINE


There Is a Tide


I dove into this without checking the liner notes first, which left me gaping at the supple interplay between, and I quote, “piano, keyboards, electric and acoustic guitars, bass guitar, drums, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, alto flute, percussion, samples, and saxophones.” Imagine my shock at finding out every last lick of the above comes from Chris Potter himself—a man known for sax better than anything else, but who has clearly been woodshedding beyond even Coltrane levels (he cut this in six weeks) during the new isolation.

And isolation marks his methodology, which explains his means. We’re seeing and hearing a lot about folks reaching out to each other over the computer, a lot of thank-God-or-whoever-up-there for the means to connectivity both electronic and personal. Potter politely refuses this and uses lockdown to go inside himself. On the momentum of a small miracle, though, this never sounds brooding, navel-gazing, or even ingrown. He’s sprouted multitudes. “Rising Over You,” for example, struts some funk backbeats while the keyboard wanders through a wavy pattern, the guitars double up for a contemplative motif, and the warm but delicate soprano sax waves the way forward. “Mother of Waters” puts liquid vibes over a melodic bassline, leaving flute to flutter forth a variation on that bassline; later on it’s not-quite-swing with a fragile sax part, threatening to sputter out, gaining strength from the other horns, gaining health, before the Caribbean vibe chimes back in.

I want the insanity over, and I’m sure you do too. We wish the new isolation into history, into a page we can turn. But I wonder what Chris Potter could do—theoretically, of course—with another several months of this. I wonder what he could grow. ANDREW HAMLIN


The Lost Berlin Tapes


Were there a jazz rainbow—let’s call it a swinging rainbow—that ended in

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