Jerry Granelli is an enigma. He is the drummer on the famous A Charlie Brown Christmas CD by Vince Guaraldi and has recorded with many traditional jazz artists. But he is also known as a pioneer in world jazz fusion and is even in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the inventors of psychedelic music. This release on Songlines Records, The Sonic Temple: Monday and Tuesday, clearly derives from his more exploratory, free jazz interests.
This two-disc set includes the same eight compositions recorded in the studio on two different days. Because these are for the most part loosely-structured free jazz pieces, the results are quite different between the two days of recording so it’s not as repetitious as one might think.
Free jazz like this is an acquired taste that requires concentrated listening to appreciate. This isn't comfortable music that follows familiar chord progressions, meter, or rhythm. But by listening carefully you can find the structure; there's nothing random here. Think in terms of abstract artwork; without study it can be difficult to find the artist’s ideas.... but they’re there to be discovered.
What makes Granelli's music on The Sonic Temple enjoyable is the interplay between the musicians. Sometimes it is a delicate ballet; sometimes it is a choreographed martial arts fight with its violent movements; sometimes it is a group of friends deep in serious discussion. These musicians are listening to each other intently, trying to knit their sounds together into a totally unique sonic canvas that expresses both their musicianship and their emotive artistry.
The opening track, "Ballad of El Leo Nora," is a haunting, drifting piece that depends heavily on slide guitar glissandos and Granelli's playing of a "steel sculpture" made especially for him by San Francisco artist Peter Englehart. "Riddim" is a frenetic piece with occasional bits of melody riffs; it would fit well in the soundtrack of a space alien horror film. But then there's James Brown's "It's A Man's World," which after a brief arrhythmic opening, shifts into a more or less conventional blues even meter, a bass line outlining the chord progression, gusty guitar solos the whole lot. "Farewell" does evoke the sadness of goodbyes with a pensive bass solo played over a pretty bed of two guitars singing long sustained notes punctuated with delicate cymbal work by Granelli. The closing song on both sets, "Pit Bull," surprises by its light and open character; the title fooled me into believing it would be a more aggressive, energetic piece. Perhaps it's a pit bull in a quiet, brooding moment.
This work will surely delight Granelli fans. But I would also recommend it for drummers as a study in using the drum kit in a more responsive and fluid way, in contrast to its more conventional role as rhythmic backbone. The musicianship here is high but not because of technical proficiency (though that is evident); it's because of the interaction and community formed by the musicians for each piece. Improvisation is of course at the heart of jazz music, and The Sonic Temple in some ways is a more powerful demonstration of that truth than a conventional jazz record because it is group improvisation (or even group composition). Recommended to anyone who wants to stretch their understanding and appreciation of the essence of jazz musicianship.