Burnt Belief (Porcupine Tree’s Colin Edwin + Jon Durant) – Etymology (2014)

Porcupine Tree went into indefinite hiatus following the 2010 tour in support of the prior year’s The Incident, as founder and frontman Steven Wilson flourishes with his solo projects. However, the other members of the band have hardly stood still waiting for Wilson to come back. Bassist Colin Edwin has been perhaps the most active of the post-PT four, and we’ve sat up and took notice of some of these collaborative projects such as Metallic Taste Of Blood (2012) and the bass summit metal with Lorenzo Feliciati from earlier this year titled Twinscapes.

Edwin has also collaborated with Jon Durant, a fusion guitarist with some New Age impulses, starting with Durant’s Dance of the Shadow Planets from 2011 and blossoming the following year into a full-blown partnership with the self-titled Burnt Belief album, where Edwin shared in the songwriting chores. Now comes the second Burnt Belief project Etymology, set for release October 21, 2014 from Alchemy Records.

Burnt Belief is one of those truly symbiotic combinations: Edwin pulls the music in a darker, aggressive and mildly metallic direction, while Durant’s atmospheric dreamscapes textures brings out the lyrical side of Edwin. The balance they strike is the very thing that makes Etymology the not-too-hot, not-too-cold, just-right porridge that’s often smooth, mesmerizing but never sedating.

That balance is also found in how Edwin and Durant make music with a mix of programmed and handmade tones and rhythms while putting their own musicianship at the forefront of it all. That’s why for Etymology, those mechanized beats are supplemented by a platoon of drummers (Vinny Sabatino, Dean McCormick, Jose Duque) and, for a few tracks, electric violinist Steve Bingham.

Durant often undertakes lead melodies by pairing up his resonant guitar with a similar sounding synth (probably generated by guitar effects) as Edwin offers a harmonic counterpoint with his imposing, yawning bass lines; such a template is cast right off on the opening “Chromatique.” “Precis” is aptly named because of the precisely layered multi-rhythms and the harmonic components from Edwin and Durant locking together like a jigsaw puzzle. The meticulous layering is also found in “Convergence,” a nice melody of descending minor chords overlaying a gnarly groove, with more layers added to build momentum toward its ending.

An ambient opening for “White Keys” moves into soaring guitar/synth melody lines and Edwin providing a funky, syncopated and yet unhurried bass figure. Two-thirds of the way in, a groove pops up, and Durant drops some sweet sounding legato lines over an Arabian flavored strain. “Not Indifferent” is structured much the same way with another ambient beginning and a slow groove anchored by Edwin’s elastic bass. After a period of suspension, a groove rises up and is fully installed at the seven-minute mark, with intelligent integrated layering. The echoing violins of Bingham lend “Squall” a classic-era Jean-Luc Ponty vibe to the song, but married to the electronica beats and Durant’s articulation that sounds akin to that violin.

A couple of songs break from the downtempo style of the rest of the album. “Rivulet” is a ballad where human-played drums make a difference with the delicate cymbal work coloring the timbres. The song is further enhanced by Edwin’s lyrical bass playing, first by tracing Durant’s lines and then with a gorgeous, Eberhard Weber-esque solo. “Hover” is just Edwin and Durant; the electronic atmospherics aren’t there but they are able to effect the same mood, and Edwin’s bass once again acts as a second guitar.

Burnt Belief is a partnership that’s effective because of what Edwin and Durant each bring to the table and their perceptiveness to meld their strengths together to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. As a result of this, Etymology is as good as you can get with instrumental prog-rock, downtempo, fusion jazz, New Age or whatever you prefer to call it. I call it an excellent specimen of any of these things.

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