Gaps and Spaces [Greg Ward + Caleb Willitz] – Synoptic Optiks (2015)

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Greg Ward hasn’t made a whole lot of records (yet), but each time he does, he reinvents himself. The first time out he made a refreshingly powerful fusion-jazz record, the second time was an alternative approach to the acoustic trio format. And with the April 7, 2015 release of Synoptic Optiks, that trend of reinvention continues.

This time, he returns with a partner, a composer, producer and sound architect Caleb Willitz, and the music is far outside the bounds of jazz. Joining this Ward/Willitz project named Gaps & Spaces are Tortoise’s Jeff Parker on guitar and effects, Dave Miller also on guitar and effects, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and effects, Makaya McCraven on drums and Dominic Johnson on violin and viola.

If the music of Gaps & Spaces’ debut Synoptic Optiks is offbeat and fascinating, well that’s probably because it’s the product of an offbeat and fascinating process: Each of the musicians was asked to make increasingly adventurous takes on a musical motif devised by Greg Ward, and Caleb Willitz distilled the best of those takes into the four tracks that make up the completed album. For the final track, “Oration,” Ward composed and overlaid additional music featuring Johnson (from New Millennium Orchestra) and McCraven (from In The Moment), with Greg Ward making his only appearance of the record on his primary alto sax instrument.

Willitz’s sonic alchemy juxtaposes noise music and mellifluous strands in vividly sharp divergence. For “Postulate,” the gloomy, chamber sounds of the cello and viola duet is competing with a white, electronica backdrop. A shimmering guitar surfaces amid the static wall of more computer-generated noise on “Cerberus.” A drone permeates “Efflux,” where guitars played both forwards and backwards integrate deeply with the effects. Oddly, it sounds like a weirder, more psychedelic “In A Silent Way.”

“Oration” is, as noted earlier, an actual song as most people perceive them to be, but not much less experimental. An animation (embedded above) was created by Jak Ritger, Kate Howley, and Shannon Wallack in conjunction with this piece, using intricate stop-motion methods to create the moving visual art.

With the complementing talents of Caleb Willitz on board, Greg Ward finds another way to defy not only expectations but discourage the very notion of setting expectations on him in the first place. More chances are taken on the completely different Synoptic Optiks, but as before, Ward (and Caleb Willitz) pursue a different path with the same confidence and know-how.

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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