Brandon Seabrook – Sylphid Vitalizers (2014)

feature photo: Peter Gannushkin

Brandon Seabrook is a damned fine jazz guitarist but I first think of him at the top of the heap of wack jazz banjo players. OK admittedly, it’s a small heap, but maybe that’s because few have the balls to even attempt this. OK, so maybe calling him the king is a slight to Eugene Chadbourne and possibly Bela Flek. Yeah, Eugene is the boss of bizarre banjo, no question. But after getting my synapses jolted by Seabrook’s new mindfuck of an album Sylphid Vitalizers (out now, via New Atlantis Records), though, calling Chadbourne the far-est out banjoist has suddenly become a shaky claim.

Seabrook has already captured a heaping helping of acclaim (Village Voice‘s “NYC’s Best Guitarist of 2012,” for instance) and has been on so many creative jazz records, like Mostly Other People Do the Killing and Jeremy Udden. Not to mention his own outfit, the Seabrook Power Plant. But Sylphid is officially his debut.

Debut albums aren’t usually so extreme, but that’s Seabrook’s true nature. “Ballad of Newfangled Vicissitudes” multi-tracks and warps furious banjo strumming. At times, it resembles an orchestra of backwoods swamp zombies with Terry Riley minimalism. A locust swarm of banjos also pervade “Mucoidal Woolgathering,” a relentless, repeating figure that mutates and reforms again before dissipating into the ether. Seabrook plays (possibly loops) a fingerpicked figure nearly throughout all of “Lurid Clusters,” making subtle modulations in the background electronic wash behind it.

Seabrook’s guitar side gets a full hearing on this album, too. “Selfodomized Poltergeists” is layer after wicked layer of loud guitar, slashing through from all angles and leaving behind a trail of electronic dissonance. “Cabeza Spasms & Aural Championships” juxtaposes urgent metal shredding with desert-barren sonic textures and a chiming run of repeating chords resembling Rhys Chatman’s own guitar style.

It doesn’t matter if the experimental music is being rendered by electric guitar or banjo, Brandon Seabrook uses technology, virtuosity and — most importantly — a deviously fertile mind to blow the minds of anyone who comes across these recordings. Sylphid Vitalizers expands the world of what is possible with a banjo. And guitar, too.

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.