Animation – Transparent Heart (2012)

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Coming off of not one but two albums of the same live concert performing the songs of Bitches Brew, Bob Belden decided to wipe the slate clean on his exciting, hard-hitting fusion band Animation and turn inward for inspiration. “This record is not a jazz record, it’s about my life in Manhattan,” is how Belden plainly describes the new Animation album. Transparent Heart is the first studio Animation record in a decade, and for this most personal of Belden projects he entrusted young, talented musicians from the University of North Texas (Belden’s alma mater) to flesh out his suite of compositions dealing with different episodes or facets of nearly three decades living in the Big Apple.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Animation’s Agemo re-casts Bitches Brew as a boiling cauldron of bass-heavy funk mashed up with the unpredictable improvisation of jazz. Add to that the electronic effects of DJ Logic, and there are a lot of elements swirling around in these songs, both in the originals and Animation’s interpretations]

Joining Belden, who plays sax and flute, is a whole new band: 23-year-old keyboardist Roberto Verastegui, 24-year-old bassist Jacob Smith, 29-year-old trumpeter Pete Clagett and 20-year-old drummer Matt Young. Belden tossed these young men into challenging settings. The songs are all Belden’s, but the approach to music bears a close relationship to how Miles conducted his bands, especially during his classic fusion period. Songs are really broad canvases, on which the musicians are to paint their own brushstrokes without so much forethought that the emotion gets bleached out. There exists a collective spirit in constructing the basic ambience of each song that falls in line with its theme, while individual performances reveal the nuances of the stories.

The opening “Terra Incognito” uses strident, sweaty rock rhythm bumping up against the drawn-out, droning chords of the trumpet, soprano sax and an icy synth wash. The somewhat hopeful tones make way for the uncertainty, fear and friction of “Urbanoia.” It’s here where we first encounter the knotty drum ‘n’ bass hyperkinetic rhythms also heard on “Transparent Heart,” “Seven Towers,” and “Occupy!” which, while very modern, can also be traced to the strange, innovative rhythmic patterns introduced on On The Corner. Young performs well under the spotlight and Smith’s snarling bass completes a sinister groove that the Prince of Darkness surely would have loved.

[ Stream tracks from Transparent Heart here ]

“Cry In The Wind” is a brief but beautiful quiet moment on the album led by Belden’s flute and meant to project, says Belden, “the extreme loneliness and helplessness that are heard all the time throughout the city.”

The title song (video of live performance below) exemplifies the clashing of cultures in the city and the energy thrown off by these conflicts. There really isn’t any soloing on this song, rather, the hard, unrelenting groove itself is the point of improvisation. “Seven Towers,” a musical first hand account of 9/11, showcases Clagett, who delivers soothing lines against an impatient pulse, finally bursting open at a climatic point. That’s followed by a suspended passage, and again, tension building up again this time led by Verastegui’s billowing electric piano.

A slippery bass riff propels “Provacatism,” on which Belden’s sax and Clagett’s electrified trumpet exploit. Clagett employs a muted horn as Belden switches to flute as they both lead the empyrean, celestial “Vanishment.” The last track “Occupy!” brings us to the present ongoing Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, represented another moment for tension release, but with a certain sadness and frustration pervading the song, too. Here, all three soloists — Belden, Clagett and Verastegui — get turns to carry out their own expressions about the violence between the protesters and the NYPD.

Belden’s music journal of his roughly thirty years in Manhattan works very effectively as a theme that ties these eight pieces together into a coherent whole. Despite him intending that this isn’t “jazz,” it’s full of the immediacy and improvisation closely associated with jazz. As a set of personal impressions and recollections, though, he’s right; Transparent Heart is more than just jazz.

Transparent Heart goes on sale October 16 by Rare Noise Records.

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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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