Jazz CD Reviews

Dylan Ryan/Sand – Sky Bleached – Cuneiform

Aggressive and experimental instrumental music for guitar fans.

Published on June 23, 2013

Dylan Ryan/Sand – Sky Bleached – Cuneiform Rune 357, 46:10 [1/15/13] ***1/2:

(Dylan Ryan – drums; Timothy Young – guitar; Devin Hoff – bass)

Sky Bleached is drummer Dylan Ryan’s debut as a leader, but he’s been part of both the Chicago and Los Angeles avant-garde/jazz communities for approximately a decade, participating in experimental/alt-rock groups such as Herculaneum, Icy Demons, Bablicon, Michael Columbia (a band, not an individual) and has toured with indie rockers Cursive. Ryan brings the kind of genre-jumping sensibility to his solo material that he’s shown in the other outfits he’s worked with. Ryan offers ten tracks which range in scope and tone from heavy menacing riffs to nearly ambient excursions, and music which clatters and curves with jazz, free improvisation and outsider rock.

After relocating from his Chicago base to the sunnier but smoggier Los Angeles climate, Ryan formed his operational trio, Sand, with Seattle-to-L.A. guitarist Timothy Young (a multipurpose musician who has worked with Fiona Apple, was a member of Wayne Horvitz’s Zony Mash, and spent time with John Zorn) and bassist Devin Hoff, another new City of Angels transplant (a solo artist whose credits include the Nels Cline Singers, Xiu Xiu, and Ben Goldberg). As a unit, the threesome conveys spontaneity and comprehensive interfacing to Ryan’s nine originals plus an adaptation of a Paul Motian piece.

Opener “White Nights” confidently moves with grooving 5/4 time, and where Hoff and Ryan set down a forceful foundation and Young takes center stage with a Midwestern twang akin to Bill Frisell’s most vista-oriented numerations. That same neutral color re-emerges on a heated reimagining of Motian’s “White Magic.” Motian’s original, on his 1981 ECM release, Psalm, was quite fiery (particularly the tandem workout between Frisell and tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano). Ryan’s tribute is calibrated with even more disorderly uproar. Young furnishes a distorted surf-rock-esque quality while Hoff and Ryan blast out a barraging backbeat. Jazz fans might not enjoy the overdriven tune but rock listeners will follow the dots which extend back to Black Sabbath and up to Joe Satriani.

Ryan’s otherworldly compositional mien is widespread on other tracks. “Physic Journey” begins with a melodious intro fronted by Hoff’s emotive arco, and then he switches to a faster plucked rhythm as the number gradually goes from simmer to seething boil, as Young weaves a concentrated thicket of six-string sonics above a shuffling 6/8 beat. Before the quieter conclusion, the trio hits a packed-chord bang. Extraterrestrial existentialism permeates the echo-laden “Time Stalkers,” a longer, methodically composed cut which pursues a fluctuating trajectory, from an unstable waltz start to an extensive rock-based segment replete with volleys of resonating chords and shifting harmonics. “Time Stalkers” invokes the expansive, California coastal vibe crafted by likeminded bands such as the Mermen. It comes almost as a relief when Young’s final chord quivers to a fadeout. Ryan and Young prove especially communicative on the Dire Straits meets Dixie Dregs “Translucent Spheres,” where Young is once again given free liberty, and summons some memorable melodies and solos.

An ominous portent of possible things to come occurs on the ambient “Soft Rain on a Dead Sea,” which could be a seamless accompaniment to some of director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s cinematic efforts. Hoff’s bowed bass increases the sepia-suffused patina as Young’s lingering drone effects supplement the feeling of something mystical but conceivably unpleasant hovering on the horizon. The spacious “Dreamspell” has a similar low-end pulsation, initially highlighted by Young’s coiled sound effects and scratchy string scraping: but, like “Time Stalkers,” the piece builds to a wave of massed guitar riffs, weighty drum rolls and rigorous bass notes. The concluding title track brings back the upfront jazz, at least at first, but Young’s stuttered guitar lines and Ryan’s equally lurched beat quickly morph the number into predacious territory, as if something dark and unseen was careening toward the dim light. Listeners and potential buyers should note the material is frequently thick and dense: the production often provides a large cavernous sound which suits Ryan’s intentions but may put off those who prefer a more dynamic and bright audio experience.

TrackList: White Nights; Barocco; Psychic Journey; Mayan Sun; White Magic; Soft Rain on a Dead Sea; Time Stalkers; Translucent Spheres;Dreamspell; Sky Bleached.

—Doug Simpson




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