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Followed by GIGANTOSAURUS REX…
“Improvisation” has almost become a dirty word, and not without good reason. How many times have you seen a band, no matter how amazing, where suddenly the beat goes slack and it sounds like the players are fumbling out of sync in a cacophonous jumble of confusion? For that reason, the members of GIGANTOSAURUS REX are hesitant to use the term “improv” even though their music arises largely out of split-second decision making and an open-ended approach to composition that keeps them on their toes at all times. Yes, drummer/composer Sean Jefferson, keyboardist Andrew Links and bassist Tyrone Allen II have created a space for themselves where they’re constantly engaging the spontaneity of the moment. By the same token, though, they don’t want the audience to feel like the structural integrity of the music is lost — not even for a single measure.
Even when it comes to the most “free”, “noise”-based, or intentionally abrasive music, the point of improvisation should ostensibly be to extract form from a blank slate. G-Rex’s members have all spent years working within the rigidly defined parameters of predetermined chord progressions, charts, predictable sections in which to solo, etc. So on their debut EP Providence 3.0 they made a decision to foster a creative environment that would allow them to flex their technical proficiency while forcing them to draw on their instincts. By throwing out the structural frameworks they were most accustomed to, the members of GIGANTOSAURUS REX knew they would come up with fresh angles and unorthodox combinations of sounds. Themes from a historic Winston Churchill speech inspired the title Providence 3.0, but Churchill’s words work as an analogy for the music itself: because what one hears when listening to GIGANTOSAURUS REX is the sound of things falling into a working order almost of their own accord.
For the making of this EP, the band didn’t always learn of Jefferson’s compositional ideas until just before recording. And Jefferson, coming off his highly mapped-out album as bandleader, 2012’s Dream Works (which featured hot jazz commodities Marcus Strickland, Harold O’Neal, and Richie Goods) didn’t actually come up with ideas until two weeks before the recording session. In some cases, he didn’t even give his bandmates chords. And yet… by some kind grace operating beyond the scope of the individual musicians, everything falls into place and holds together. Of course, the band had no shortage of colors at its disposal. The Eastern-tinged stylings of the title track give us a sense of what Medeski Martin & Wood might have sounded like had they hailed from a former Soviet republic, while the fusion-flavored “Attraction Refraction” allows us to imagine an alternate universe where Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters-era group was fronted by a mad-genius prog-rock keyboardist like, say, Yes’ Rick Wakeman or ELP’s Keith Emerson. “Top of the World” offers a strangely dissonant-yet-catchy slice of uptempo drum ‘n bass, while “Nattyfunkēpartīmuzik” stays true to its name with its reggae-inflected deep funk groove.
It’s important to remember that so much of what we associate as traditional ”songs” started out in the infinite potential of the moment, where the basic core of all musical ideas sprout organically. But GIGANTOSAURUS REX is creating an entire language out of that process, leaving itself room to roam wild while putting itself to the test of coming up with something that sticks. And it’s clear when listening to the album that the band is having fun but also pushing itself to break new ground. This requires that the band face the unfamiliar. Fittingly enough, for “Deep Void” Jefferson was inspired by what happens when a person has an identity crisis and is forced to confront a shattered sense of self in a void of solitude and doubt. “In that kind of deep void,” Jefferson offers (citing the example of a former tech executive he’d read about who found himself without friends as a result of his wealth), “there is only truth and honesty. But if you can get to the other side of it, there’s redemption in having gone there.”
In a sense, that’s what GIGANTOSAURUS REX does musically, measure by measure facing the dread and thrill inherent in an empty canvas and somehow finding creative redemption as each moment gives way to the next.
“What we’re doing — or at least trying to do — is spontaneous composing,” says Jefferson. “So the challenge is: How do you get to the point where things are clicking between all the different instruments all the time?”
Finding himself immersed in archival recordings of Churchill’s speeches, Jefferson started thinking about the passage of time, of history folding in on itself, of personal histories as smaller ripples within the greater flow of history — all while taking three years off from writing music. Throughout that period, Jefferson absorbed a great deal of music as a listener and hit-on the realization that the most beautiful melodies, the ones that resonate most readily with people, are simple. This led him to consider the primordial qualities inherent in melody, harmony, and rhythm — the fact that certain building blocks of music connect with us on a very deep, primal level. As the sound of Churchill’s fiery cadence rolled thundered in Jefferson’s thoughts — the iconic world leader urging his war-weary constituents to stay resolute during one of history’s greatest cataclysms — all of these ideas came together and GIGANTOSAURUS REX was born.
“Our overall instrumental approach sounds modern,” he continues, “but it links to something older via these primordial, archetypal melodies and ideas.”
To give the music additional texture, Jefferson threaded old radio ads, homemade vocal samples, and live-triggered electronic sounds throughout the music. The archaic modes of advertising and the emotional charge of Churchill’s words (apparent even when modified and spoken by Jefferson himself) help anchor one of the album’s underlying themes: that the only thing we can latch onto to steady ourselves within the flow of time are the basic things that make us most human. In musical terms, that means melodies, interaction, and organic relationships between musicians.
And, as Providence 3.0 makes abundantly clear, these musicians are loathe to be confined by anyone’s codes of genre orthodoxy.
“The moment you slap a genre on something, you don’t just say what it is, you also say what it’s not. And you immediately eliminate all the potential for what it could be. There’s no need for us to cling to genres anymore. I certainly don’t feel that need, and I think the music GIGANTOSAURUS REX is making reflects that sense of freedom.” Laughing, he adds: “I envision this band as a creature, literally nourishing itself on whatever sounds it chooses to feed on and going where it wants to go from there.”
Event Date: March 4, 2016
Show time: 8pm
Ticket Price: $5 general admission