(2015 Summit Records)
Sample and purchase this album here
To watch a fascinating trailer of the band in the studio look here
Read a Wisconsin State Journal article here.
There are so few jazz releases coming out of Madison, especially of this caliber and They Said… was easily one of the most rewarding recordings issued in 2015. From the first few moments They Said… sounds like an ECM recording made by a Scandinavian jazz outfit, immersed in bleak landscapes and expansive vistas, where wind and occasional sunlight offer weak glimpses of hope. It’s like listening to a vintage Jan Garbarek or Terje Rypdal recording. They Said… is ponderous and inspiring, painting a canvas with ultra-modern exploratory colors that will transport.
The quartet that makes up Sinister Resonance are some of Madison’s finest musicians. At times it is difficult to determine which of them is producing the recorded sounds. Long, sustaining, chordal underpinnings suggest keyboard synthesizers but Vincent Fuh is only credited with piano. Elsewhere Fuh may be resorting to “prepared piano” where objects are placed on or between the strings to unusual effect. Deep drones could be bassist Nick Moran bowing but there may also be plucked lines happening at the same time. Are these overdubs or is something else happening? All sorts of percussive sounds would likely be credited to Todd Hammes whether it’s the drumkit, kalimba or a frame drum. Eventually the realization sets in that much of what is aurally perplexing is emanating from Mark Hetzler’s trombone. Applying electronics to brass and woodwinds is not something entirely new; Hanah Jon Taylor’s been using a wind synth for some time. Miles Davis and Palle Mikkelborg certainly charted new territory for the trumpet in the age of electronics. But the cryptic sounds that Hetzler concocts with trombone are otherworldly.
There are long delays being utilized on the instruments that seem to circumnavigate the globe. Yet the tone is pure and organic. A single piano or trombone note can seem to expand into every region of the known universe. There are harmonizers and overtones that allude to an entire horn section. All of this processing could easily get out of hand but Buzz Kemper’s engineering and Mike Zirkel’s mixing are works of art. This has to be regarded as an achievement of the highest sort for Audio for the Arts.
A good place to begin to unravel the mysteries of Sinister Resonance is the fifth track “AK,” a composition recorded on David Torn’s Prezens album from 2005. Torn’s music is surely an influence for Hetzler but how he translates that influence to trombone is mesmerizing. In “AK” you can hear Hetzler playing fairly clean phrases and then applying several arrays of processing. These offer clues into how the natural sound is being manipulated as these sonic architectures show up elsewhere on the recording.
About halfway through the ten-minute opening track “There’s Something About David H,” Sinister Resonance reveal their awesome power. If you were curious what King Crimson might sound like if they had a trombonist, this track could be your answer.
Perhaps the most unsettling of all is the title track, an eleven-minute soundscape with spoken words. The composer, saxophonist Merk Engebretson, was commissioned by the UW (Where Hetzler is Professor of Trombone) for this project. Words are from the poem “I, They and Abu Ghraib,” written by New York poet and performer Brian Lampkin and are disturbing to say the least.
The band takes its name from avant-garde composer Henry Cowell’s composition, which is a study in producing piano harmonics by touching the strings as the keys are depressed (watch a demonstration here). The track is represented on They Said… with eerie, menacing bass; the main theme being expounded on by Hetzler. Brilliant.
Moran gets to shine on bass on the eleven-minute track “Fear of Dust by the Handful,” one of two original compositions by Hetzler on They Said… A long intro gives way to a soulful trombone section before Fuh takes over for an extended piano improvisation. This one is as close to straight-ahead jazz as Sinister Resonance get.
“Agonist” is another sensational experiment with sound manipulation that bursts into a high-octane riff and some nifty drumming from Hammes.
They Said… is distributed internationally by Summit Records out of Tempe, Arizona. The band has had some local response but deserves wider acclaim. The quality of the recording is typically impressive output for Audio of the Arts, again demonstrating that Madison has unlimited potential on many fronts including the avant-garde genius that is Sinister Resonance.