- The Discussions, Past Patterns
Few bands are both as aptly and ironically named as the Discussions. Led by composer Greg Rothwell, the 12-piece instrumental jazz-fusion collective features some of Burlington's top musical talent and creates songs that meld a variety of intertwining genres. One moment the band lays down some pretty straightforward Latin-flavored jazz, and the next, a fuzzed-out guitar soars into the mix, pushing the song into progressive rock.
That range is on full display on Past Patterns, the notoriously hard-to-define group's latest record. On opener "The Jogger," the band sets the table with ominous volume swells, squeals of distorted electric guitar and amorphous, wordless vocals before a downright cheery piano figure bursts in. By the end of the song, the band is in full freak-out mode, horns blaring over an arrangement of pure energy and joyous aggression.
Rothwell wrote all five tracks on the LP, but the tunes were arranged by him and various members of the group, including Avery Cooper, Colin Henkel, Derek Rice, Eamon Callahan and Eli Goldman. That collaborative spirit suffuses an album bristling with creativity and bold choices. "C# Suite," for example, shifts through movement after movement, from Latin to jazz to funk to ambient, yet never loses its sonic identity along the way.
If there is any unifying trait to Past Patterns, it is its unrelenting cinematic feel. Every track sounds as if it had been pulled from a different film score. The movement within "Eb Suite" could follow a seven-minute movie all by itself, and the labyrinthine "Mirrored Ending" is just begging to accompany the end credits of a film noir.
Much of that cinematic quality is due to the horn and string arrangements, which alternately operate in concert with and in opposition to one another. In particular, the strings on "Double Pane" — courtesy of Matt LaRocca, Eli Goldman and Tucker Hanson — serve as a sort of light and dark contrast with Cooper's saxophone, giving the tune rich emotional complexity.
Most thrilling are the band's expeditions into ambient sound design. On a jazz fusion album already rife with genres such as new age and prog rock, you'd think throwing in ambient music would be a bridge too far. But the Discussions introduce the element with both precision and intention. When the music breaks apart or crumbles into soundscapes, the band is able to take all the tension and mystery of those moments and use them as a type of adhesive, bridging the various complex movements Rothwell and company have designed.
It's a musical high-wire act, where the landscapes of the songs can shift at any moment. But it's handled well enough by stewards who know when to let a good groove continue for a while.
Past Patterns is available now at thediscussions.bandcamp.com. Catch the band on Saturday, December 17, as part of the Holiday Extravaganza at Foam Brewers in Burlington.