Will Mason Ensemble – Beams of the Huge Night (2015)

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A drummer with a keen knack for composing extended, undulating musical pieces, Will Mason might tell you his music is a mixture of contemporary classical, out-jazz and math-y rock. It arguably is, but the styles don’t grab ya’ like the naked passion of his music does.

That’s the big takeaway from the new CD by the Will Mason Ensemble, Beams of the Huge Night, now out on New Amsterdam Records. The make-up of the Ensemble itself hints to Mason’s idiosyncratic approach: joining him on drums are Stuart Breczinski on oboe, Daniel Fisher-Lochhead on alto saxophone, Dan Stein on acoustic bass, Nina Moffitt on wordless vocal, and not one but two electric guitarists (Travis Reuter and Andrew Smiley).

That’s a near orchestral setup able to make a lot of noise, and its mixture of classical and rock instruments along with the unpredictable moves they make suggest what might have happened if Sun Ra had gone in a more rock direction. Mason wrote these half-dozen songs in the Maine woods from whence he came, and the strong connection to nature shows up prominently in these tunes. The preponderance of wind driven instruments — voice included — simulates the unpredictable, episodic movement of air as in the gentle breeze rustling tree leaves or, at the other end, a torrential downpour. Most compositions are really suites, replete with moments of building drama and chaos bracketed by clarity and calmness.

The adventurism begins with the sprawling “Finn,” a circular, evolving piece that’s fueled by building momentum of an impending storm that comes crashing down in the middle. Out of the rubble, a trance emerges, and a taut pace takes over, with guitars battling for attention with horns. Moffitt’s spooky voice serves as yet another tonal component. The urgency builds again as the song races toward its second arched peak.

A lonely sax noodles over a barren, guitar-created sonic terrain at the beginning of “Dixfield, ME.” Evocative of David Torn’s Prezens ensemble sans the electronic effects, the band explodes four minutes in, bursting with energy and culminating in sax/guitar free-for-all. This is followed by a jagged pattern of notes traced by both sax and guitar quickening the pace in a spooky buildup to a raucous thump amid guitars uniting to mete out notes reminiscent of the theme for The Twilight Zone.

Reuter and Smiley make more creepy sounds on “Brille,” as their sheets of dreary guitars rain down dissonance over Mason’s thunderous ground for the first three minutes or so. After Mason’s drum improv turn subsides, a lithe mood emerges with the reeds delicately jousting with each other. In a later section, Mason’s drums engage in swing but Fisher-Lochhead and Breczinski playfully joust and engage in free jazz. “Door 6” is a nod to Mason’s noise-metal side, which he usually visits through his two guitars/two drums band Happy Place. Manic math rock-jazz of the rhythm section and guitarists pushes against another current of drawn-out motifs rendered by Moffitt, Breczinski, Fisher-Lochhead and eventually, one of the guitars.

It can be a little exhausting to listen to Beams of the Huge Night, but exhausting in the way a carnival ride is, because of all the unpredictable turns and thrilling moments. Will Mason isn’t making music quite the way anyone else is, and based on Beams of the Huge Night, it’d be worth paying attention to him; he may just be getting started.

Visit Will Mason’s website for further info.


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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