Review: Ghosts by Peter Evans Quintet

Listening to Peter Evans Quintet’s “…One to Ninety-Two” (a sprightly reinvention of Mel Tormé’s “Christmas Song“), a suspicion besets the mind that Peter Evans is not exactly the trumpeter he professes to be. From the sound of a few tracks on Ghosts (2011), he could be Richard D. James and/or Tom Jenkinson taking a crack at free jazz. But weeks of intensive exposure to Ghosts will lead to the likeliest conclusion that beyond a trumpeter, Evans is a renegade computer scientist. I’ve formulated the conspiracy: the Quintet he fronts comprises four androids of Evans’ engineering (pseudonyms: Carlos Homs, Tom Blancarte, Jim Black, and Sam Pluta), endowed with the most advanced musical AI to date. Ghosts is thus a landmark and hopefully watershed album, the first of a genre I’ve dubbed proto-SingularityJazz.(Note: Not entirely certain that Ray Bradbury or William Gibson haven’t already coined the term.)

Evidence for my dementia abounds. A word of caution to the old guard: the Quintet samples liberally. “…One to Ninety-Two” minces a piano solo and Peter Evans’ (at times malfunctioning?) trumpet with the awry hisses, chatters, and squeals wont of an androidal improv sesh. “323” and “The Big Crunch” carouse and cause mayhem in a quintessentially-21st-century fashion. “The Big Crunch” in particular ends with a jarring Blue Screen of Death moment, which transitions surprisingly well into the avant-garde double-whammy of “Chorales” and “Articulation.” “Ghost” and “Stardust,” while reprieves from the bedlam, prove memorable just the same. I’ve woken up to mornings subliminally sound-tracked by the first twelve seconds of “Stardust.” A highly recommended phenomenon for the noo-nauts out there.

Ghosts is a must-listen for any connoisseur of jazz, and a should-listen for any amateur of jazz (in the most French sense of the word possible). For all its avant-garde esteem, the album can be enjoyed by the uninitiated. In its best moments, it escapes the usual pitfalls of its genre — inaccessibility, for instance. Nevertheless, one does wonder if the once-maniacal-iconoclast-of-jazz-himself, Ornette Coleman, meant this exactly when he spelled out The Shape of Jazz to Come in 1959. Coleman is credited as father of free jazz and great-uncle or some other kooky relation of the retroactively named “post-bop.” Maybe Coleman’s proleptic opus anticipated The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady or Ascensionbut it likely had no sense of Ghosts. This is an album that perfectly captures the élan vital, as Pynchon might say, of the 21st 10s. It’s an odd suggestion, considering we’re but toddlers in the decade, but Ghosts’ statement is unmistakable.

In fact, I won’t even mention the awesome and eerie theremin-esque sound at the five-minute mark in “323” because defining an effort like Ghosts by its “moments” is missing the point. In fact, defining Ghosts solely by its music is missing the point (though this may just be the conspiracy-theorizing from earlier talking). The album is more than its music. Consider the album art.

Ghosts by Peter Evans Quintet

The figure in blurry writhe looks exceedingly like an android, mark you that. It is, however, the mastermind himself, Peter Evans.

Certain circles consider cover and liner art integral to an album’s listening experience. Cover art is often the synesthetic encapsulation of a work’s sounds, atmosphere, or ethos; other times it’s just a cool picture. Ghosts‘ cover is cool, but it also reflects what the music within wordlessly relays and the multiplicity of the music itself. There’s the megalopolitan bustle of “323”: weekday traffic jams and subway rides with vehicles and persons now gray swathes in the memory. Not to mention the haunting familiarity of “…One to Ninety-Two,” and how it begins the album — indiscernible laughter and conversation. At once everything seems familiar, but you can’t put your finger on any of it. That’s 2012 for ya’. “Ghost” is life among handheld devices with LCD touchscreens and the high-pitched whines they emit when left charging bedside. “The Big Crunch” is the account of an office technician’s battle with a computer that refuses to recognize the network printer. And when it finally does, it makes the printer spit out thirty-seven test pages. These aren’t Luddite grumblings, whatever Luddite means, but mere mimesis. Ghosts details what we experience in the transitory periods when we’re not trying to achieve “self-actualization.” Songs the ghosts of modern life.

[Feature image from La Casa Encendida]

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