** In Process of Stocking ** Empty Castles is the third document of Spectral, a working horn trio split between the cities of San Francisco and Chicago that’s been active since 2012. As with their previous two releases, 2014’s self-titled debut, and 2016’s digital-only Neutral Nation, this new recording showcases a free improvising band that fully embraces the term “instant composition.” While their performances are known for thoughtful pacing and development, methodically spinning off complex structures from scratch with an unparalleled sense of architecture, the context for this new recording pushes that approach to a new extreme. In this case, setting becomes character, like the spaceship in Alien, or the frozen landscape in Fargo, adding a new dimension to the band’s compositional process.
Bunker A-168 is a 12,000-square foot concrete shell, perched slightly back from the water at the tip of the long peninsula known as Mare Island in Vallejo, CA, at the far northeast corner of San Francisco Bay. This long deserted mammoth, originally a munitions bunker in a former naval station dating back to WWII, is protected behind gates, set back from the road, and unseen through the overgrown grass that surrounds it. Hand-painted numbers in thick black paint on the heavy concrete walls designate each of the roughly fifty stalls originally intended for armaments, with the assistance of gently zig-zagging lines in those same heavy but efficient brush strokes that carve the space up further. They hang on the wall like calligraphic text on a Chinese parchment, providing definition to the sprawling and vacant background. The atmosphere created by these visual remnants combines with the highly charged acoustics of the space to add undeniable gravitas and austerity to these proceedings, such that every note hangs in the air as its own object, a tangible apparition to be thoroughly considered. These three improvisers use the setting to great effect, forced to further distill their sonic decision-making into territory in which every highly exposed gesture contains the gravity of a closing move in a well-matched game of chess. There was nowhere to hide during this recording session, every note staring back at its creators with fearless eyes. And the resulting musical tension is palpable, as the band tosses ideas up into the air between them, and sets them spinning off into the ether, each one on their own unique path.