INCUBATED DILEMMA MACHINE
Andrew Rathbun's new album with his band NODES. An unprecedented adventure!
To listen the full album and to buy it click here
Andrew Rathbun – saxophone
John Hébert – bass
Keith Hall – drums
Christopher Biggs – live electronics
Recorded February 21, 2021 at La Luna Recording (Kalamazoo)
Engineered by Ian Gorman
Mixed and Mastered by Christopher Biggs
Produced by Koshkil Records (Madrid)
Cover art by Christopher Biggs
Cover designed by Ramiro Peralta
Andrew Rathbun uses D’Addario reeds and products.
Keith Hall plays Remo Drumheads, Yamaha Drums, Vic Firth Drumsticks, Zildjian Cymbals, and Big Fat Snare Drum products.
01 CONCEPT INFLATION
02 SLUG DISCO
03 APPLESAUCE JUICE FRESH SQUEEZED
04 VAMPIRE TAILGATE
05 SPURIOUS CORRELATION
06 SLOW FLOOD
07 LETHAL MONKEY SPIT
08 RUBBER BANDS
09 SPIDER SACKS MARCH IN SPACE
10 PROPRIETARY JUKEBOX
11 FUNGS CONTROLLED ANT SWARM
12 INCOMPATIBLE COMMINGLED VEGETATION
13 PROFUSIVE CHEESECAKE
14 UNIDENTIFIED SUBSTANCE GROWING ON A LOG
Concept Inflation by Andrew Rathbun, Broatch Music, SOCAN
All other compositions by NODES.
Support provided by the Kalamazoo Artistic Development Initiative, a program of the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo.
When first hearing the new recording from Nodes Project, Incubated Dilemma Machine, a first (and prevailing) question hearkened back to a 2021 release featuring Nodes’ Andrew Rathbun. In the can for six years before being unearthed, THAR, like Nodes, was the work of four musicians/artists. Asked then how it sat in his growing catalog of recordings, Rathbun stated, “It’s just a documentation of another one of the many ways I like to make music.”
The “free pieces” that were sprinkled throughout, were heard as “the slow-burning furnace implicit” within the heart of THAR. Indeed, as I remarked then, the group’s “unfettered experimentation, [was] a spirit that gives each player room to explore their respective instruments in a cohesive, deep-listening environment.”
And while THAR included a mostly unbridled standard jazz quartet, Nodes goes it more than one step further. With what could be considered a piano-less jazz trio, there’s the vital addition of electronics, transforming everything. It’s another quartet, to be sure, but light-years from anything Rathbun has done before. Let it be known, Nodes is more than sprinkled with that “unfettered experimentation” through all of its 14 tracks of wildly different lengths.
To say Nodes’ “deep-listening environment” is prevalent would be an understatement.
Mention should be made that Nodes is a group album with no one leader. Joining Rathbun, who plays tenor saxophone throughout, are bassist John Hébert, drummer Keith Hall and, intriguingly, electronics wizard/producer/engineer Christopher Biggs. All four are university educators as well as recording artists in their own right. (Biggs is an associate professor of Music Composition and Technology, co-director of the Electronic Music, Multimedia and Recording Labs and director of the Splice Institute, the focus of which is to “study the integration of performance with electronics.”)
Given the experimental nature of this recording, its creation seemed to present a mystery. “These sessions took place at La Luna studios in Kalamazoo, on February 21st of 2021, one full day of recording,” Rathbun notes. “Chris did some post-production with the electronics, but most of what you hear is done in real-time. Chris also mixed and mastered the project, expertly if I may say so.” Biggs adds, “The main electronics that were added after the recording were on [the almost 29-minute opening cut] 'Concept Inflation,' simply because it is notated, and I thought I could have performed it better [when recorded with the group], so I re-performed it with the recording of the instruments and chose between the two performances at different times. Other than that, almost all the electronics were from the initial recording.”
Hence, the mystery of so much electronic wizardry (somewhat) revealed. So much of the music does seem to be freely improvised, almost dreamlike in execution, like a group-think experiment (in a collective unconscious kind of way) where all four are thinking out loud to each other, with episodes where all are like one artist, starting and stopping as if by design but, no, spontaneously interacting with each other in seemingly telepathic ways. It all begged the question of arrangements, planning and guided execution.
“The only piece that has any notated material is the first piece, ‘Concept Inflation,’ says saxist Rathbun. “It has these different sections that we move between, directed by musical gestures and cues given by the soloists.” Again, Biggs adds, “Andrew, Keith, and John simply play off each other so naturally and seamlessly that the longer tracks end up seeming like arrangements. I got to the point where I could pick up on things that they would do that would suggest movement to another section, pushing towards and pulling away from bigger movements, and motion into textural changes/solos. The shorter pieces were a great idea that Andrew had and they make the album work well, as they allow the listener to change modes of focus in terms of timescale, like a uniform pallet cleanser between more divergent tracks.”
“The only real planning in the studio,” Rathbun comments, “was occasional discussion about who would start, or pairs of ensemble members beginning a piece. I think sometimes we were trying to create forms in the moment, and other times thinking more abstractly.”
Speaking of the tracks themselves, one can not help but notice how idiosyncratic and fanciful the titles appear, e.g., “Slug Disco,” “Vampire Tailgate,” “Spider Sacks March In Space.” “I have to credit Chris with the song titles,” says Rathbun. “He’s pretty masterful at coming up with the names, inspired by the music. [As for composer credits] the only piece that’s written by me is the first one, everything else is arrived at collectively.” The titles, Biggs assures us, mostly come from visualizations of one kind or another while mixing the tracks. The mind shudders at the thought.
For Rathbun, there was a “garage band” aspect to it all: “The main inspiration for this project was the kinds of sounds and textures that Chris brought to the table. Initially, we were getting together in his garage (due to COVID) and experimenting with the various kinds of live processing that he’d constructed, and I would react to that. After a few times I thought that it would be even more interesting if we got Keith and John involved. It became quickly apparent that we were onto something.”
Adds Biggs, “A few years ago, Andrew had invited me to add electronic parts to student compositions for a concert by an ensemble he directs at Western Michigan University. At that time we decided to try to do something together and the pandemic allowed me to focus on coding and practicing with electronic music performance tools, and Andrew and I would play in the garage. Then I reprogrammed tools and practiced. Andrew, Keith and John are so good that I was able to experiment with tools and they would figure it out and make it work. Then I would try to keep the things that seemed to work most naturally with this set of inputs and develop those further.”
The result is a sonically impactful listening experience, where each player is heard to great advantage, whether in a group setting, in duet, trio or solo. The sound of each player’s respective instrument is impeccable, so close to your being in the room with them, Hall’s drums enlivening, taut, immediate; Hébert’s deep, woody bass notes fully resonant; Rathbun’s expressive horn like a bright, clarion call when not subdued and understated with intimacy.
Considering Biggs’ contributions, the dynamic range of his “tools” creates a suspension of expectations as he imbues everything with a luster, accenting the sounds around him, with or without a pulse, in free and/or fragmentary fashion, never overbearing or calling attention to itself unnecessarily. Just like a good piano player, but with an untold bag of tricks all his own. As Biggs notes, “I think electronics fill three primary roles: background texture, melding with one or more instruments to create a distinctive hybrid, or gesturally interacting with the instruments. They can fill multiple of these roles simultaneously.”
“Sax, drums, and bass can clearly exist on their own,” he continues, “but there can be space even when they are all playing: space for the sounds that can fill the role that harmonic structures often fill, space for thickening and doubling leads or background, and space for foreground and background gestural interaction.”
All in all, I think Andrew Rathbun speaks for the bunch, when he says, “I can’t say I’ve ever done anything quite like this, and I don’t think any of my other records sound anything remotely like this. Although I’ve always been interested in playing in more open settings, I’ve never done something of this depth and length with so little predetermined structure.”
To which Biggs concurs with conclusive vigor: “Nothing remotely close to this for me previously.”
John Ephland , critic and author.