If Brandon Seabrook’s previous trio album, Convulsionaries, was quietly pummeled by a modified chamber jazz vibe, Exultations, featuring the ever-versatile drummer Gerald Cleaver and the inimitable Cooper-Moore on diddley-bow, leaves no holds barred. A makeover doesn’t even begin to describe what has happened to Seabrook with the shift in personnel, now a vehicle in full flight; while the faint of heart had better clear out, everyone else should buckle up!
For those unfamiliar with Cooper-Moore’s diddley-bow, its sonority resides somewhere between a percussion instrument and a thinned-out fretless bass, so it’s perfect to complement Cleaver’s rhythmic jabs, whooshes and ribbed smears as they whiz by. The tune begins with a kind of manic shuffle, with a little rockabilly from Seabrook thrown in for good measure, but quickly blasts through the ozone layer of tradition, warping in speed as notes bend and blur. Cavernous delay does nothing to obscure the contrapuntal articulations at constant play that unify the music as it shatters time and space. If, like the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the opener is a trip through the star gate to fragmented points beyond, its opposite is the meditative “Essential Exultations.” The slow-burner finds Cleaver and Cooper-Moore in gut-buckety blissful groove mode with Seabrook droning in microtonal evocation atop it all, but again, nothing remains constant as the track develops. Movement is not exactly what occurs as the bow-and-drums groove dissipates, making a laughingstock out of mere chronology. The sense of hanging over a widening void, some sort of increasingly claustrophobic point over endless space, is enhanced by increased tonal density from Seabrook that eventually erases all sense of center save that of timbre. It’s the only sound remaining when the rhythm section departs, a sonic monolith floating over silence.
Like the music, the recording is bigger than life, almost cinematic. Check out the deeply earthy “Absurdities in Bondage” to hear just how deep and wide a rhythm section can come across in recorded technicolor, due in no small part to Cooper-Moore’s whoops and slides as the diddley-bow takes on a humanity of its own. Thudding, crashing through the false boundaries of history, progress and construct, each cycle delineated by what it would be tasteless merely to call a snare pop, Seabrook’s dense harmonies make the whole edifice float. His guitarwork throughout is unlike any I’ve heard. Sure, you can trace everything from Red-era King Crimson to Ornette Coleman and Pat Metheny’s groundbreaking Song X as the music rips, swings and liquefies along its chosen trails, but no allusion can address its simultaneous density and surprising clarity, not to mention the harmonic syntax that seems to be Seabrook’s own. It’s thorny, it’s exciting, and it’s unique, and that’s quite a combination for a trio format that could easily have warn out its welcome with the first track. Seabrook proves himself to be one of the most creative guitarists around, and the trio is a unit with which to reckon. - Marc Medwin