Tenor Sax Quartet Battle Trance Returns with Scorching 'Blade of Love'

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'Battle Trance: Blade of Love'

There is something singularly delicious about an album that ferries the listener all the way across it, allowing not a moment of hesitation in which to consider skipping ahead. There is a visual analog in film. Consider one for which it would be irresponsible to view on a phone screen, say a Julie Taymor or Terrence Mallick picture. It begs to be viewed in full detail, and otherwise deflates. Battle Trance’s second full-length, Blade of Love, is such a record, with its three corpulent tracks fusing bleary chord nebulae, scorching rhythmic bursts, and vulnerable incantations into a philosophic, aural aphrodisiac.

Listening to Travis Laplante, Jeremy Viner, Patrick Breiner and Matthew Nelson, who Voltron-ed together in 2012, is a bit like finding one’s grounding minus the yoga pants, mantra or dojo membership. The tenor sax quartet tunes the space at the opening of the record with cycling b-flats and c’s, not unlike a tamboura before the unveiling of the sitar. The tonal spectrum widens, patiently, and then we are seamlessly transported into melancholy vocalizations with the machinery of the saxes providing resonating cavities. Thoughts turn to a distantly-remembered pop number, with textless lead vocals (played here on the tenor sax) breathlessly cajoling us before the first third of Blade of Love spins into a frenzy that leaves no room for functional thought (think/hear the escalator scene from Koyaanisqatsi).

Earthbound whistling provides the elision from part one into part two, and the listener is then hurried into reverse-envelope, un-pitched thwacks that conjure up an image of the foursome striking each other in the solar plexus with focused jabs. A forlorn chaconne underpins braids of breakneck scales until the scene dissolves into a satisfying smog of multiphonics. Here, and throughout Blade of Love, extended techniques and virtuosic playing do not appear to be the point. One gets the sense that the auditory image came first, and the writing and playing rose to meet it, as with the flatulent chant that concludes this middle movement.

For part three, dislocated vocals play like a deconstructed hymn, ushering in a cathartic sax unison. The most compelling of the three sections, here windswept vistas and thudding rain turn the album toward a more naturalistic, less introspective, panorama. As the album fades, reality inevitably sweeps back in – a more tranquil, more fascinating reality.

Battle Trance: Blade of Love
New Amsterdam Records and NNA Tapes | Released August 26

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