Digital Primitives – Lipsomuch/Soul Searching (2014)

It’s easy to think of a “groove” as having certain kind of chord changes, played by certain kind of instruments and even having certain kind of beats. The trio Digital Primitives turns that kind of thinking upside down.

Comprised of some of the top free jazzers in NYC scene today, Chad Taylor, Assif Tsahar and Cooper-Moore make the kind of noise that appeals to your instincts about groovin’ at the primitive level, a dance music that ignores generally-held ideas of what dance music is supposed to be like.

Taylor of course originates beats from behind his drum kit, meting them out in a usually straightforward manner but also inventively, too. However, it’s Cooper-Moore’s role that makes this combo so exotic; instead of his usual piano, he’s playing rudimentary tools like a mouth bow, fretless banjo, a diddly bo and a one-string bass he calls a ‘twinger’ (which I suspect is really a type of diddly bo but since Cooper Moore makes his own instruments, he gets to call ‘em whatever he wants).

After at least a couple of years of simultaneously confounding audiences and making them move, the Digital Primitives made an album — actually, two — and packaged them into one. Lipsomuch/Soul Searching, out last month on Hopscotch Records, is a set of nineteen warped boogies that serves your core need to sway.

Free-groovin’ has been done before, but this is where rock, prewar delta blues and avant jazz meet. Taylor’s straight ahead thump gets together with Tsahar’s wandering tenor and Cooper-Moore’s fretless banjo on “Beastit,” and the trio gets into trance mode for cuts like “India” (not the Coltrane tune) and “Ol’ Blu.”

Cooper-Moore plays a diddly bo on “Eye Perceives” like a poor man’s slap bass, with a lot of wobble on that string. Groove gets deconstructed, corroded. It gets even trippier on the rightly titled “Wobbly Mind,” where he’s bending notes and turning them around until they’re staggering around dizzy, as Taylor lays down a funk construction and Tsahar expounds on Cooper-Moore’s loopy mood.

When Cooper-Moore plays a mouth bow as he does on “Butch’s Ballad” and “Talking In Tongues,” it resembles a double-bass played glissando and paired with Tsahar’s sax on the former, it resembles pure (avant-garde) jazz. Combined with Tsahar’s m’bira on the latter, it builds a bridge straight from western Africa to northern Mississippi.

Not all the ideas come from Cooper-Moore’s workshop: Tsahar is playing his own harmonic thought that’s rather melodious, almost festive, for “Spider’s Sap” as Taylor’s unusual beat comes across as some blend of Brazilian and James Brown. And all three engage in rollicking free jazz (with Cooper-Moore handing the bass parts) during “Son Stones” and “Crumble.”

It all goes to show, that sometimes the best inspiration for a fresh, new kind music can be rooted in some very old and simple ideas.

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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.