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HomeMusicBeings – There is a Garden (Album Review)

Beings – There is a Garden (Album Review)


The best collaborations often sound like happy accidents. This is certainly the case with Beings, four musicians who essentially found each other in the right place at the right time. Saxophonist, pianist and occasional vocalist Zoh Amba has released a solo album and appeared in a handful of collaborations but is already being talked about in the same breath as some of free jazz’s greatest-ever practitioners. Guitarist Steve Gunn has worked with Kurt Vile and Mary Lattimore and takes his influences from sources as diverse as La Monte Young and American primitivism. Veteran double bass legend Shazad Ismaily has names like Yoko Ono, Tom Waits, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Laurie Anderson on his CV, and Dirty Three drummer Jim White is one of the most in-demand musicians on the circuit. It should come as no surprise that There Is A Garden is a great piece of work. As it turns out, it’s better than that: the way these four work together is insanely good, creating something accessible and musically breathtaking from the language of experimental jazz and apparently having a great time while doing so.

The most instantly arresting thing about opener Small Vows is the juxtaposition of the deliberate percussion with the intense, skittering free jazz of Amba’s sax. The result is wonderfully messy but somehow elegant. Here and on the hectic Sun Greeted, she seems to work at a tangent to traditional notions of melody while always keeping them in her peripheral vision, and her sound approaches the diversity and timbral richness of Albert Ayler.

The intensity comes from a different place on Flowers That Talk – the drums become freer and more interpretive and Gunn’s guitar has the feel of Nels Cline’s work with Wilco. When Amba’s vocals kick in, the whole thing enters a kind of decentred alt-rock mode before White steps it up, and Anda switches to sax for a gloriously cacophonous conclusion. Amba’s vocal contributions provide some of the album’s most revealing and vivid moments. Her singing on Morning Sea is sweet and reflective, though that sweetness is played off against White’s taut percussion. 

God Dances In Your Eyes offers up spidery guitar lines over a bracing harmonium drone. After its maximalist first half, everything calms down and settles into a kind of avant post-folk with scuttling drums and warbling synths. Gunn’s guitar lines are often just as exploratory as Amba’s Sax, though usually more gentle. On Do Come Again, he creates a dreamy meshwork while Amba puts in perhaps her most conventionally beautiful piece of playing, a melody both resonant and flutey, which seems to hover like a mist over the simmering sea of bass and drums.

The minute-long In The Garden sees Amba show off some of her most aggressive, Ayler-like playing, while Face Of Silence is a chaotic, clattering piano piece, like Cecil Taylor falling down a brutalist staircase. Happy To Be embraces a more slow-burning, melodic style of jazz, Amba riffing on a single smouldering phrase while the tension comes from the brisk buildup of percussion and the slower accumulation of ambient background sound until a final climax like a blood-red sunrise.

At times on There Is A Garden, you can hear the influences of the past: there are elements of krautrock, the Magic Band or 90s post-rock hitching a ride on the half-structures that these pieces contain or imply. But there is no noodling, and no bathing in the glow of nostalgia. Not a second is wasted. This is blistering, beautiful free jazz with an uncommonly sunny and accommodating outlook.

Beings tour dates:

Jul 21 – Guelph, ON @ Hillside Fest
Jul 22 – Detroit, MI @ Trinosophes
Jul 23 – Milwaukee, WI @ Cactus Club
Jul 24 – Chicago, IL @ Constellation
Jul 25 – Louisville, KY @ Headliners
Jul 26 – Nelsonville, OH @ Nelsonville Music Festival
Jul 27 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Sprezzatura
Jul 29 – New York, NY @ Le Poisson Rouge
Jul 30 – Philadelphia, PA @ Solar Myth
Aug 8 – Saugerties, NY @ Opus 40

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