Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Review: Snaarj, 'Levels'

Posted By on Wed, May 16, 2012 at 9:20 AM



Levels is the second release from Bloomington based indie jazz-rock outfit Snaarj. Although the LP clocks in at in a brief nine songs, Levels is a substantial work full of deep textures, deft musicianship and expertly crafted compositions.

Snaarj are able practitioners of the jazz-rock sound, a style pioneered in the early '70s by groups like Soft Machine and Henry Cow. It takes serious musical chops to pull this genre off, but the four piece ensemble (drums, bass, alto and tenor sax) do it with grace. Plus they don't bog themselves down with the extended, meandering "prog rock" solos that weighted down many early jazz-rock groups like the aforementioned Soft Machine.

This is a leaner variety of jazz-rock, as evidenced by the LP's second track "Pauly Shore Rides Again." The song recalls the aggressive, stripped down avant-funk of New York's no-wave. Shades of DNA and James Chance permeate the track, before it explodes into a beautifully melodic chorus between Josh Johnson and Dustin Laurenzi's horns. This inspired sax interplay between Johnson and Laurenzi is a highlight throughout Levels.

In "Husky Plus" the twisting bass of Bobby Wooten becomes the focal point. The composition begins as the most firmly jazz rooted work on the LP while slowly dissolving into abstract math rock noise.

"Captain Cool" repeats the experiment. Beginning as a soft meditative chant between the saxes and drummer Ben Lumsdaine's glockenspiel, the composition ends in an explosion of free jazz noise.

This is Snaarj's first full length studio LP (their first LP was a live album recorded at Chicago's Tonic Room). It's a very impressive debut effort and highly recommended.

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