Burning Ghosts – Reclamation (2017)

Last year Daniel Rosenboom launched on record a combustible quartet that serves to let out improvisational primal screams against the injustices of the world. The self-titled Burning Ghosts album brought social activism back to jazz by way of metal, never uttering a lyric but relying on pure passion in the calamitous music the trumpeter Rosenboom made with guitarist Jake Vossler, bassist Richard Giddens and Aaron McLendon on drums.

Reclamation, coming out June 30, 2017 on John Zorn’s Tzadik label, continues the sonic struggle with perhaps a greater sense of purpose since a very divisive election had occurred in the interim. Though the rise of Trump isn’t explicitly brought up on this latest set, the battle cries for progressives have grown louder because of it, putting more relevance into Rosenboom & Co.’s mission. Matter of fact, the song titles are peppered with words associated with turmoil, deception, anger and call to action: “Radicals,” “Betrayal,” “Zero Hour,” and “Revolution” (no, not the Beatles song; all of these tunes were penned by Rosenboom and Vossler).

The beginning of this album nearly belies that metal/jazz” description. “FTOF” is for the first ninety seconds a drums/trumpet-only conversation that’s more your father’s improv jazz jam, until Vossler’s distorted guitar crashes the party. Rosenboom and McLendon initially ignore him but little by little, get drawn into the dark side and by midway through, all four dudes are thrashin’. Vossler’s solo positively slashes and burns, working up to a Sonny Sharrock freakout. It didn’t take long for Burning Ghosts to establish a straight, unbroken line between two music forms often thought to be on opposite sides of the spectrum.

Vossler and Rosenboom team up to make the opening statement on “Harbinger,” and the presence of the trumpet mute only serves to amp up the urgency in Rosenboom’s cry. Vossler’s power chords then begin to dominate and when he’s done, a trace of crackling fuzz is all that’s left in the wake. “The War Machine” isn’t the relentless frontal assault that the title implies, instead riding on an arc that is subdued until it rises up for the chorus.

A lot of the yin and yang inherent in this quartet can be found on “Radicals”, e.g., the lyrical, light tone of Rosenboom’s trumpet and the acoustic bass stylings of Giddens versus the metallic stirrings of Vossler and McLendon. But eventually, everyone locks into a groove that serves as a launch pad for a full band frenzy.

A palpable sense of foreboding is heard at the start of “Betrayal,” Vossler and Rosenboom once again doubling up on dark lines. Out of that a funky stride emerges, and Rosenboom begins a choice discourse on his horn. The surprising introduction of a swing groove signals the end of that track and the beginning of “Gaslight,” a two-minute, unaccompanied spotlight for Giddens that in turn segues right into the explosive “Catalyst.” “Zero Hour” is the eerily quiet aftermath; the only sound rising above the uneasy stillness is Rosenboom’s muted wails. The band regains its adrenaline on “Revolution,” paced by a confident, triumphant open trumpet and Vossler putting an exclamation point on it with heavy riffs.

True to the stated purpose of Burning Ghosts, Reclamation is another piercing protest document without words. But regardless of what your politics might be, there’s much to relish here as long as you appreciate raw passion delivered through accomplished musicianship and a fearless attitude.

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