Crazy-Jazz-Hipster-Bebop Funk From the Edge of the Universe

Sea Rocket Jasmine

The Window, 2014

Review by Kent Manthie               searocketjasmine -the window cover

Let’s see…what to say, what can I write about this album? It is just so awesome. A really groovy project that is full of life and has a sound that is bigger than life. The Window is the new album from Dave Halverson and his side project (taking a break from Trance Lucid), Sea Rocket Jasmine. It’s completely different from just about anything new that I’ve heard in a while. The Window is a killer jazz album. Its avant-garde sheen reminds me of some of the best of John Zorn. Besides that, though, there is lots in there you can pick up that has a pipeline to some great jazz guitarists from the recent to the 1960s. Also, while it has a fluid, loose sound that just rides like a smooth, well-toned car, The Window is also full of stable, textural, picturesque vistas that have more than an improvised feel.

With wonderful instrumentation all-around: Sea Rocket Jasmine consists of Dave Halverson on guitar and Trance Lucid keyboardist, Richard Bugbee, who, besides contributing great work on keyboards, also provided rich slabs of rhythm, by playing bass and drums.  The resultant album, The Window, has a giant sound, a whole that is far beyond the sum of the 2 parts.  The hip, post-post-bop jazz that seems to attack you from all sides, via the audio output, are the work of these two brilliant musicians.  Besides turning out an album which sounds as though it was recorded by a full quartet, at least, the two produced the album, which clearly gives it a completely uninterrupted vantage from which to complete this delicious work.  Hats off to a fabulous job of all three duties.  The sounds fit in perfectly and nothing is out of place or overlooked.  If this had been done for some major label, no doubt, the suits would’ve sent in some minders to make sure the duo followed the whims of the tone-deaf corporate slobs, in order to keep from spending too much money and to make a record typical of corporate consumer culture:  salable candy-coated fluff.  That’s why it is always smart to stay far away from any square wearing an overpriced suit to a club where he’d definitely stick out like a sore thumb and keep to a fiercely independent mindset.  If you’re good and have something original and unique, you’ll find an audience; word-of-mouth is still one of the strongest ways to spread the word about things like music, books, art and so on.  You play a few gigs and then, if at least a few people from that show spread the word to a few other people and so on, pretty soon, you get a solid fan base and without having to waste money or hype on supercilious marketing ploys.  Just take a look at the long history of indie rock and such, throughout the last 50 years at least.

The Window is a true gem; lucky are the ones who get to hear it.  Not being the product of some Warner Bros.-affiliated label (or one of the 3 or 4 other corporations who run the “mainstream” music industry, you won’t see any big hype in the music press (i.e. Rolling Stone or the once good, but now far-gone SPIN Magazine – the same goes for the counterparts in the UK – NME, Melody Maker, etc.) but, any critic who has a good ear, would be, I’m sure, excited by the verve of this intense album.

Instead of just a few quite long songs, The Window is made up of 12 songs that average in at about 3-4 minutes in length, but which all can be interconnected and a great experience when listened to all in one sitting.

On such songs as “High Steps”, you get to hear a shiny, smooth Hammond B-3 organ, playing in tandem with piano, intertwined in certain spots, it’s a real thrill to hear. The album starts out with “Sun Nova” a real eye-opening tune that will catch your ear and keep you listening into “Grey”, then the title track, and the aforementioned “High Steps”, which, as I wrote, really shines, with the interweaving piano and organ.

Track number 5, “Echo-Logical”, is a quiet little piece, a funky sort of synth & piano interlude, which, true to its title, reverberates in a nice, dreamy sort of way, a mellow sort of vibe; a bit of chilling out.  Next up, track number six, “Shepherd”, Bugbee takes the piano for a whimsical rollick around the first part of it, with Halverson coming in after a bit to rip through some smoking guitar work.

Yes, this is definitely a real treat for jazz-lovers. But more than that, it’s just an all-around great album, from any aspect. The overall production values are superb: you can tell that Halverson & Co. are quite well-versed in studio techniques. Everything fits together in such a way as to meld the whole into a great combination of great melodies, solos and, in general, an instrumental work of art that, even, sans vocal, still has plenty to say and they say it all with great efficiency in such great form and with such a magnetic structure as to pull you in and keep you in its power.

My previous encounter with Dave Halverson was his previous album with Trance Lucid, Palace of Ether, which is also archived here, on Independent Review and can be read (again-?) by just typing in “Palace of Ether” into the I.R. search box.

From comparing Palace of Ether to The Window, I’ve been able to pin down certain aspects that are different on this new project, Sea Rocket Jasmine – if not, then why wouldn’t they just make another Trance Lucid album? What I can recall best about Trance Lucid and Palace of Ether was that it, too, was a loose, fluid and lively album. However, the one difference I can make out is that, while Palace of Ether had a kind of funkified, heady jam quality, with jazz-tones and tight rhythms, it also had a bit more of an avant-garde quality to it. On The Window, though, SRJ comes across as more jazz and less tie-dyed jam session and also a great melange of sounds that really pierce the subconscious. The interweaving between the piano and organ as well as Halverson’s understated yet brilliant guitar work is magnificent and there seems to be a bit more texture. But when it comes down to the basics, I just find myself really digging the wall-of-sound-like production values on The Window. Dave really worked hard in the studio to get everything just right so that every little sound that was needed, was heard, quite evident when you listen to each tune.

Halverson, himself, is quite virtuosic, yet he is one, not unlike Clapton, yet in a different vein of style and music, who is such a brilliant guitarist that he has no need to try and outshine his fellow guitarists. He’s content with just knowing that, say, onstage, playing a live gig, he could, at any time, bust out into some unreal, metaphysical meandering on the guitar that would blow your mind. The same can be said of a lot of Clapton’s studio work – even when he was in Cream he always seemed to save the best for live performances: I think that’s why, over the years, after thinking and being told how wonderful a guitarist Clapton is, I began to drift away from that school of thought; that dogma that read on a men’s room wall in the 60s that “Clapton is God”. I cringed at that description and began to wonder what all the fuss was about. But, when I recently saw him play (from 2009, I think) in a show with his old pal Steve Winwood and a few session musicians, where they opened the show with “Had to Cry Today”, the first cut on the one and only, eponymous Blind Faith album, I was hooked. But it was towards mid-show, when they did a cover of the old blues standard, “Double Trouble” that I was really blown away: somewhere, about mid-way through the song, Clapton goes into what turns into a long, drawn out and blisteringly awesome, smoking solo. It was at that point that it all came rushing back: he wasn’t some mediocre guitarist who many had been deifying, wrongly; no – he was merely being understated most of the time, but when he wanted to he could sear some kind of unworldly brilliant solos onto one’s consciousness. The same is noted on The Window: a great guitarist who, between the lines, shows great talent and a love for the music – more of a passion, I suppose, you could call it.

Anyway, to sum it all up: to make the right description of The Window, I would just spit out that it is a greatly mastered album: full of great production, wonderful playing all around and a fresh, full sound that puts them all together without dropping a note. -KM.

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