Everything you need to know about GRAMMIES’ new record GREAT SOUNDING can be found in its gloriously stupid title. The album constantly inverts itself, offering up increasingly next level instrumentation, song craft and emotional depth to an altar of self-sacrifice, producing a rare jazz gem that excels through humility rather than bombast. It’s an unconventional combination of far out mid-70s avant jazz, one piece jumpsuit boogie grooves and budget bin New Age cassette tape ambiance that conjures magic from the hilarious excess of early ’80s Adult Contemporary without stepping into joke band territory or leaning too much on whimsical nostalgia and irony. Essentially, we can take GRAMMIES seriously because they don’t beg us to. But conceptual riffage aside, the most important thing about GREAT SOUNDING is that it reproduces the experience of watching the band blow out an untreated show space while giving their compositional skills and deeply psychedelic vibes space to glow.
The first thing I noticed was the production. A good chunk of the contemporary jazz records that I’ve encountered sound like classy reproductions of a band in a room that minimize the engineer’s creative input and sound more or less like that audio equivalent of a decent suit and tie. GREAT SOUNDING upends that moldy platitude by absolutely crushing everything under a wall of compressed grit and dingy reverb, synthesizing the high-end reflections and gut-pumping volume of a dank warehouse show and stating boldly in its first hissy second that GRAMMIES are not interested in making records for classicists like Wynton Marsalis. Nay, saxophonist Noah Bernstein and drummer Dan Sutherland belong to a lineage of heretics who have sought to push jazz in strange new directions by embracing technology and incorporating less academic musics into their compositions. Their heavily processed saxophone, sampled synth chords and jazz-damaged hip-hop rhythms levitate about like the bassless disembodied souls of archetypal late-night fusion jam sessions, perhaps approximating the germinating after-hours sounds in FlyLo’s dream zone before he wakes to flush them out through his spastic Ableton filter.
In particular, tracks like “Hunter” and “Linda Hamilton” give us Kashif’s endlessly listenable midnight vibes alongside Eddie Harris’ skronky tape experiments circa Silver Cycles, while my personal favorite, “Dog”, reimagines Herbie Hancock at his eye rolliest as an eccentric outsider pop star with an ear for bizarrely memorable hooks. The song revels in irony and reverence with equal measure and encapsulates most of what I love about this record, both thematically and musically, in just over three minutes. As chill as “Dog” is not, “The Chosen Yun” is pure Reiki healing bliss, a beatless track surely modeled after the ambient b-sides of hypnotic ’80s guru cassette courses but stunningly beautiful in its own right. I can’t find a fault with any particular track on GREAT SOUNDING, though I would suggest that it is best taken as whole. Every song flows into the next via synth drones and swells, and while there are a few catchy lines here and there, the bulk of the record’s movement lies in the rhythmic dynamics and the breath like cycle of explosions and contractions.
I feel I should offer a final note on the production before I conclude this piece. A lot of the lo-fi universe simply distorts a mediocre record until it either sounds cool because it’s gnarly or pulls on the nostalgic heart strings through synthetic aging, faking authentic decay with overdriven tubes, tapes, or plugins. GREAT SOUNDING would be an incredible album even if it were a lightly produced recording of an awesome group of musicians jamming in a room. The fact that they chose to shred something composed and performed with such care reveals the soul and humble heart pumping away in Bernstein and Sutherland’s collective guts. GREAT SOUNDING‘s biggest moment are all the more powerful and compelling because it doesn’t sound like ego wankery. Yes, to say that these dudes can play would be an understatement, but that isn’t the point here. It’s the songs, goddammit, and their ability to laugh and poke fun out of love for music rather than cynicism is what rinses this album free of any pretension and baggage that other contemporary jazz albums are saddled with, whether unfairly or not.
GRAMMIES – GREAT SOUNDING Full Album Stream