Haitian Rail – Solarists (2014)

Last year Edward Ricart and Nick Millevoi headed up a quartet bearing their names that was bound to be impactful in the netherworld of fringe metal-jazz. Both of them being boss guitarists within that realm had a lot to do with this. Haitian Rail lived up to its great promise with the help of Little Women saxophonist Travis Laplante and Ceramic Dog drummer Ches Smith.

For Ricart and Millevoi’s next trick, they blew up the band and put it back together again under the moniker Haitian Rail, and in place of Smith and Laplante are Mostly Other People Do The Killing drummer Kevin Shea and Philadelphia-based trombonist Dan Blacksberg (Superlith, Archer Spade). And while it’s hard to bid adieu to the likes of Smith and Laplante, sometimes change is good.

In the case of Solarists, the maiden release by the Ricart/Millevoi/Blacksberg/Shea lineup, the change is not merely good, it’s great. Ricart retains his role as a guitarist playing electric bass, acting as a low-end foil to Millevoi but also adaptive to Shea, whose time with MOPDTK has made him very accustomed to jolting changes that come with little warning and unrestrained ensemble playing. Blacksberg is the wild card in this whole thing, playing an instrument that is even less associated with the clamorous sounds of loud, fretted and amplified instruments, but he carves out his own niche by remaining true to himself. And you know what? It fits.

The quartet is divided along rhythm section/lead section lines for “Trembler,” with Ricart and Shea establishing a buzzing clamor. Ricart and Blacksberg unite for the theme but soon split apart to offer up their own takes on it: Millevoi slashing his way through the thick underbrush while Blacksberg’s trombone offers a sharp contrast to Millevoi’s staccato attack, and occasionally, he happens upon a pattern with the guitarist. At one point, everyone backs out for Shea, though, and he expands on the bobbing and weaving he’d been doing in the background.

Shea becomes the lead improviser for “Overburden,” which begins with Millevoi and Blacksberg making random noises over a barren soundscape before a figure is introduced, played slowly. By the end, everyone joins together on this riff, except for Shea, who is the only one playing free.

“Scintillator” is a return to the harshness, all-out ensemble freedom at high volume. Millevoi goes off the hook, nearly obscuring Blacksberg, who fights back and responds in kind. The next track is even more breathtaking. “Flare Star” starts out sounding like the smoldering wreckage left behind by “Scintillator.” Millevoi scrapes on a string while Ricart lets his amp hum and vibrate, and Blacksberg emits creepy sounds from his trombone. About four minutes in, the song finally kicks into gear and Millevoi and Blacksberg play in and out of unison, leading to an extended spotlight for the trombonist who makes sharp jabs while Ricart is playing like a madman underneath. Around the twelve minutes mark, Millevoi opens up the gates of hell and in a wild twist, the whole performance ends with Ayler-esque sing-song vamps.

Millevoi fires off volleys of feedback during the entirety of “Seven Wastes” as everyone else does their part to forge an industrial drone.

Out July 22, 2014 by New Atlantis Records, Solarists immediately establishes Haitian Rail as a fearsome battery of inscrutable noise with terrific give-and-take. And Blacksberg’s presence assures that they hold up the jazz part of the experimental metal-jazz equation, losing none of their ferocity along the way.

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.