Half Notes: Turtleboy – Smart Matter (2011)

More on our series on “weird-assed trios”

Tenor saxophonist Jonathan Lindhorst and guitarist Ryan Butler went down to the Village Vanguard in New York five years ago to catch a Paul Motian Trio show, and got to meet with Motian Trio members Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano afterwards. The whole experience inspired them to start their own sax/guitar/drums trio and by the following year they formed Turtleboy with drummer Adam Miller. Encouraged and mentored by Dave Douglas, the three signed up with Songlines and recorded Smart Matter (a self-released, self-titled debut album came out in 2008). Turtleboy shares the same formulation as Motian’s combo, but the sound coming from them is quite different, even though they caught Motian’s adventurous spirit. The younger guys combine alt-rock with progressive jazz, but the absence of bass makes the music airier than it would otherwise be by combining these two music forms. Their alt-rock fealty is confirmed with a Radiohead cover (“Pyramid Song”), but there’s improvisational mojo going on all over, and more often it’s going on a group level than an individual one. Miller’s worldess vocals on some cuts like “Smart Matter” and “Vampyroteuthus Infernalis” amplify the melodies well. There’s even ensemble chant vocals at the end of “Elephant” and the Canadian folk standard “Northwest Passage,” something I’m not wild about, but they don’t really effect the whole mood of the record, either. Combining the directness and resonance of indie rock with the sophistication and unpredictability of avant garde jazz, Turtleboy’s Smart Matter transcribes the ideas of Motian for a younger generation.

Smart Matter went on sale June 14, by Songlines Recordings.

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    S. Victor Aaron

    S. Victor Aaron is a CPA and mid-level data analyst 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. Contact him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews.com.