Ryan Blotnick – Everything Forgets (2009)

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photo: The Picture Booth

by S. Victor Aaron

Last year came the debut of a promising young guitarist, composer and bandleader Ryan Blotnick, who was already thinking beyond conventional melodic structures and places intelligence over cheap licks. We took notice at the time, and Music Needs You received our praise, noting that “Blotnick’s composing pen puts a welcome emphasis on complex melodic lines that reveal a deep understanding of jazz history far beyond someone that young should be able to comprehend so well.”

Now just a year and a half later on September 8, Blotnick returned with Everything Forgets, and just as I suspected he would, Blotnick spreads his wings a little wider by moving a little bit further away from the jazz tradition and into something that’s more of his own.

For Everything Forgets, Blotnick alternates between two sets of backing musicians. Perry Wortman on bass and Joe Smith on drums form a trio that was 3/5’s of the quintet that played on the first album. The second group consists of Joachim Badenhorst on reeds, Simon Jermyn on electric bass, six-string bass and “effects,” and Jeff Williamson on drums.

There are a whopping sixteen tracks on Everything, a result of there being seven interludes running roughly two minutes or less. The stream-of-consciousness nature of some of these selections is borne out of the improvs Blotnick created and recorded with both his trio (Wortman, Smith), and his quartet (Badenhorst, Jermyn, Williams). Some tunes were recorded by both bands on separate occasions, and Blotnick chose the best takes to put on this album. As you might expect, the trio sides have a stronger connection to Music Needs You than the quartet tracks. And even then, there’s a perceptible progression from the formula used in that earlier disc; “Mansell” with it’s slow throbbing bass/drums beat and Blotnick’s Extrapolation-era John McLaughlin impressions gives the song a softened The Bad Plus vibe.

On “Judge’s Cave,” the song floats on a thinnest of melodies, and eventually you can pick up some Spanish voicings in Blotnick’s guitar, accompanied by a bowed bass. Perhaps not coincidentally, this is one of the trio tunes that were recorded in Spain. “Mainstream I” rocks harder than anything Blotnick has done so far, and his rhythm section lets it all hang out, but Blotnick’s guitar remains a calming influence. “Mainstream II” is only marginally related to “I”, as it is much slower and the melody barely hints at the prior one. “Business Class” and “Ned Farm” are waltzes that are the most jazzy songs on this album. Both are well-played and Wortman’s bass is standout in each case.

The “quartet” selections (I put in quotes because sometimes Badenhorst sits out) are dispersed throughout the album move further away from jazz and project a heavier, post-rock and often more abstract sound. This is also the combo that performed all seven of those fragments, beginning with the low-key guitar/tenor sax duet “Intro.”

The experimental nature of the quartet means it’s more hit-and-miss, too. “Funes The Memorious” is an ambient piece of an electronic wash by Jermyn, vaguely resembling a pump organ. Atypical of a Blotnick song, it fails to take on any kind of shape. “My Memory, Sir, Is Like A Garbage Heap” is a brief excursion into avant-noise territory, “Slowdozer” is a solo Badenhorst improv wrapped up with about 30 seconds of superfluous silence and the dark, “Look, A Way!” showed great potential as a fully realized song but alas, lasts only 97 seconds.

On the other hand, the rhythmless “Ballad For A Crumbling Infrastructure” flows downstream naturally in a crooked path like a brook. It’s a great example of where improvisation can produce a mellifluous song. A couple of the selections recorded by the newer crew does manage to sound the older one: on “Dark Matter (For Benoit Delbecq)” Blotnick once again performs another interesting variation on a light swing.

Ryan Blotnick mixes it up quite a bit more on Everything Forgets, which means the flow often gets disrupted, but it also means Blotnick is not content to stay put as an artist. Somehow, there is an unmistakable signature sound that is evident throughout all of these contrasting tracks, and it’s his low-key, unfussy manner. The persistently mellow delivery might be a turn-off for the impatient, but Blotnick still has much to offer for those willing to make the effort to listen closely and “forget” about more customary approaches to music.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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