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Seasons 01 by Sound Tribe Sector Nine

Don't pass this CD up! The fourth offering from Sound Tribe Sector Nine is a musical scrapbook of the band's improvisations throughout 2001, appropriately titled "Seasons 01." This album is a new artistic expression arranged with careful attention to create a larger composition that exists outside of the individual tracks. Tangled inside this ten-track double CD is the first official release of three songs; including two hidden treasures whose origins date back pre-1999.

Disc one is four tracks with unique history tying them to special occasions in 2001. Disc two is six tracks and climaxes with 25 minutes of continuous improvisation. It's clear the band attempted to create art that is distinctly different then their live experience, intended to be enjoyed at home, work, or play. The ambient jazz layers that dominate both discs allow it to work on multiple levels as both foreground and background music.

Sector Nine is creating genre-blending instrumental music that is hard to classify. The heart of this album is jazz, where the five musicians demonstrate an uncanny ability to listen and respond in a fluid collective conversation. An experiment in the sounds of yesterday, today, and tomorrow, this band might be the result of tossing records by Miles Davis, Talking Heads, Brian Eno, King Crimson, Kraftwerk, and Durutti Column into a blender with a pile of obscure drum-n-bass records.

A special and unique organism, Sound Tribe Sector Nine finds their legacy in the drummer Zach Velmer. Kicking out lightning fast drum patterns reminiscent of a drum machine or computer, he negotiates as a lead instrument using phrasing typical of a rhythm guitarist, rhythmic keyboardist, and even harmonic brass instruments. Throughout the album, he can be found in deep conversations showering Hunter Brown's free-form jazz guitar, and playing cat and mouse games with David Phipps lead keyboards. This is the key to understanding the genius ideas that guide this band as a living organism.

"Seasons 01" delivers crystal clear stereo soundboard recording from the band's personal archive. Excellent production resulted in a finely tuned mix that allows you to clearly hear all of the musicians. It comes professionally packaged in a stunning foldout digi-pak with an eight-page color booklet containing numerous photographs including five uniquely decorated stages. As we enter an era where bands no longer require a major record label to produce a CD, the band embraced this opportunity and put together the entire product with its extended family. "Seasons 01" is an exceptional quality album that is a worthy purchase for anyone who wants to support independent musicians.

What the liner notes don't say.

According to the liner notes, the band began experimenting with improvisations that had "the intention of playing music in harmony with nature." These thematic pieces often opened a show and set the mood for the evening's music. Other times, their existing repertoire helped them escape into an elevated space that was ripe for the next musical conversation.

Opening the first disc is "A Gift for Gaia," an improvisational piece that has never been heard again, is from the band's appearance in New Orleans in mid September. It delivers many of the sounds to be encountered throughout the album: ambient soundscapes, free-form jazz guitar and piano, smooth bass lines from David Murphy, and worldly elements from Jeffree Lerner.

Just prior to playing the High Sierra Music Festival in the summer, they played in San Francisco under the moniker Tzolkin: A Sound Tribe Expression. For this unique event, the band abandoned their comfortable repertoire and played an experimental two-set show full of improvisations. Born was a piece of music to be known as Drone. Presented here and newly titled Jebez, this mature version features an extended jazzy ending taken from the final live show of the fall tour.

As one of the three existing songs, the fifteen-plus minute version of "Ramone + Emiglio" is the centerpiece of disc one. This number made its debut at the band's inaugural Fillmore West appearance in February to open the winter tour. This song soon evolved into a powerhouse split open dance groove jam. This version from late in the year captures the songs magic with its usual mind bending double speed jam in the middle of the song.

Closing out the disc is "Satori," an improvisation on the theme of winter taken from the Holiday Run in Boulder, Co. This piece contains both free form and compositional elements where repetition meets deconstruction. Velmer brilliantly mixes a variety of 1/8, 1/16, 1/32, and 1/64 drum notes to construct a barrage of uniquely different phrases that interact with Brown's guitar theme. The band quickly returned to this piece, adding it to the repertoire in 2002.

Opening the second disc is "Good For Everyday," a hip-hop meets funk experiment with an engaging exchange between the keys, guitar, and percussion. Recorded in Asheville, NC, this song reflects the small college town where hippy and DJ culture meld with new age. The band has roots in the town that is located less then three hours from their hometown of Athens, GA, although today most of the members live in the Bay Area.

"Equinox" and "Kaya" are paired next, two old school gems that debuted pre-1999 but had not yet been officially released on one of their previous three releases. These hard-core fan favorites were revitalized in 2001. Giving a glimpse into their past, these highly composed songs lie in stark contrast to the band's most recent musical explorations.

Closing out the double disc is a triple threat of 25 minutes of continuous improvisation. Rolling the listener in is "Eclipse," an ambient piece with jangling drums accompanied by sounds of flutes melting off exquisite melodies on the guitar. The centerpiece is "Thread," an odyssey based on a spring theme with a growing ferocious percussive groove. You can distinctly hear Lerner's hands slapping down on the percussion as he swings around Velmer's intricate beats. The track closes in grand fashion led by Phipps large melodic chords and delicious piano runs. The disc concludes with "Breach," a calming spacey number with real world samples including whales.

By combining a musical scrapbook into a larger composition, "Seasons 01" has mass appeal for all levels of fans: those unfamiliar with their music, those loosely or casually acquainted with them, and even those hard-core fans who collect live shows. Sound Tribe Sector Nine's most mature offering to date deserves a standing ovation, and a special place in your CD collection. This double album delivers hours of enjoyment and demands repeated listening to be fully appreciated.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Sound Tribe Sector Nine
  • CD Title: Seasons 01
  • Genre: Ambient Jazz
  • Year Released: 2002
  • Record Label: Sacred Sound Ascension
  • Tracks: A Gift For Gaia, Jebez, Ramone & Emiglio, Satori, Good for Everyday, Equinox, Kaya, Eclipse, Thread, Breach
  • Musicians: Hunter Brown (guitar & electronics), Jeffree Lerner (percussion & elementals), David Murphy (bass), David Phipps (keyboards), Zach Velmer (drums & electronics)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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