Saturday, February 17, 2018

Other Animal on CD

Do you like alt prog jazz?

I know, I know. I didn't know what that was either. In fact, I didn't even notice the genre designation when I first listened to Other Animal's eponymous debut album. All I knew was these instrumental tracks were like nothing I've heard before--rhythms that were clearly derived from both indie rock and the unusual and ambitious time signatures from '70s prog rock, driven by saxophone melodies that were clearly taken from jazz traditions. Coat all this with ambient synthesizer sounds and you'll have a good idea what brothers Peter and Bernhard Meyer are trying to accomplish.

The Meyer Bros. are both composers who take turns building these unusual yet musical songs. Peter plays the guitar and creates the electronic sounds, while Bernhard sticks to the bass. They are joined by Wanja Slavin on sax, flute, clarinet and synthesizers and the adventurous Jim Black on drums. They create dense, moody pieces that might remind you a little of some of the compositions people such as Brian Eno and Robert Fripp were creating in the studio a good twenty-five or thirty years ago. Black can push these walls of sound with his versatility--he can make a song sound like it was performed by The Police ("Mr Manga") or a free-jazz orgy ("E Dance") or anything else he wants. His drumming is that potent and up-front.

What anchors this unusual yet endearing mix to jazz traditions is Slavin's contributions. His steady work on the sax drives most of the first half of the album, with the others slowly building their support until those melodies solidify and take flight. When he switches to the clarinet on songs like "No Fruit," it adds an almost Eastern European tinge to the music, an exotic and playful counterpoint to the near drone of the rhythm section. It's the kind of music that can force your brain to set out in different directions, only to stop and take a breath and eventually figure out what's really going on.

The liner notes mention that the band's motto is "playing consciously and intuitively, leaving out the irrelevant and standing above vanity and self-display." That's easy to detect in their style--this music succeeds because each contributor adds equally to the whole, resulting in considerable momentum. That's a necessary quality since it might be difficult to summarize this music in your head at first. It's the singularity of the vision they have makes Other Animal such a fascinating discovery.

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