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Under the Reefs Orchestra / The People of 2020 / TENGGER

Last updated on June 25, 2020

Under the Reefs Orchestra is a jazz ensemble that sounds like a post-rock band trying to be an electronic outfit. The bass saxophone, guitar, and drums trio create crunchy, groove-laden, thunderous, and seemingly seamless work that could appeal to fans of any of the types of music I mentioned above. “Sumo” is a good place to start: the distorted (!) baritone sax barrels out its riff while the drums give a slo-mo headbanging stomp, and the guitar whirls and clangs above it in a supremely post-rock experience.

“Eldorado” is more heavily electronic, as the drums are processed into an electronic beat and noodly synths wander around the delicate, mysterious guitar line. Closer “Le Naufrage” is a distorted, rumbling, post-apocalyptic landscape driven by the baritone sax that is almost as terrifying as Colin Stetson’s fear-suffused work. “Tucuman” is as close to jazz as this record gets, with the sax playing some jazz-inspired patterns to guide the rest of the band in their still partially-apocalyptic explorations. This whole record sounds like it was recorded late at night in a dimly-lit room, with the trio scoring a particularly edgy noir film. Under the Reefs Orchestra’s self-titled record is a wild ride for those interested in adventurous music. Highly recommended.

A lot of people put out quarantine songs (Grimes put out a whole record!), but The People of 2020 have the most unique quarantine record, in my estimation. The self-titled five-song collection was composed by 40 people over a 14-day span, with each person having 24 hours to contribute their parts to the songs as they grew. The three main works (two are opening/closing interludes) span a wide gamut, but it’s generally jazz. It’s big jazz, as you might expect from 40 people working on a record. There are all sorts of influences that come from those large amount of players: on the seven-minute “Flattening,” there’s steel pan, synths, classic-rock-inflected electric guitar, flute, horn line, trombone, solo sax, hand percussion, kit percussion (and boy, the drummer gets after it), and more. The lengths of the tunes help corral some of this largesse into shape, but in general this is a big ‘ol asynchronous jam session, and I am fully here for it. It’s dreamy, it’s woozy, it’s a little wacky, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

“The Climb” is a little less kitchen-sink vibe, as it opens with a slinky sax, a smooth clarinet, and smoky piano to set the vibe. The drums once again ratchet the track’s energy into the stratosphere (your mileage may vary on if this is a good thing or not, I tend to think it could have come down a bit), but the vocals and instruments do a good job of keeping that smoky, slinky vibe going throughout, even with a raucous number of players. The coda is just as noisy as “Flattening,” but it feels a little more in service of the track itself.

“Slide Out” opens up in a much more hip-hop-infused jazz mode, with electric keys, wah guitar, and spoken word vocals leading the funky, snappy charge. Of the three tracks, this one is the most focused and tight, with powerful female sung vocals, somewhat restrained drums, challenging bass work, and saxophone swirling around each other to create an impressive whirligig. If you’d told me that this was a live-gig-weathered outfit that made this track, I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s more surprising that the jam is this tight for a group that has never and probably will never play together in one room. It’s the highlight, for sure.

There’s a lot more info about the record at the record label Infinity Gritty’s site. If you’re up for some kitchen-sink maximalist jazz-funk-hip-hop vibes, hit this one up.

TENGGER‘s Nomad is a collection of mostly-instrumental synth-heavy landscapes. The married duo’s last album Spiritual 2 drew heavily on motorik / krautrock sorts of repetition, but Nomad works more with drone, delicate ostinato patterns, and nature-inspired work to invoke its sense of centering calm. Opener “Achime” has subtle percussion clicks to keep the flow moving, and the steady pulse of the arpeggiator on “Eurasia” functions as percussion before a semblance of a kit comes in. Those are limited palettes, compared to prior work, but the rest of the tracks (“Bliss,” “Water,” “Flow,” “Us”) eschew even that. Instead, these are flowing pieces that rely as much on nature recordings (“Bliss”) and subtle evocations of nature (a pattern here, a tone there) to do their work.

And their work is deeply relaxing–it’s more motion-oriented than most ambient tunes, but that only serves to further calm me. Instead of trying to become fully, maximally chill, these tunes seem to gently bring me down to a level of peace-within-gentle-motion that my amped-up self can be comfortable with. “Bliss” is pretty much what it says on the tin, a space where no negative thoughts seem allowed. “Water” sounds like a steady, peaceful stream through masterful synth tone manipulation. “Flow” is ten minutes that opens with a pitched-down, sped-up version of “Water” and layers spacey pad synths on top of it, putting me in a good headspace. Female vocals waft throughout this and other pieces, adding a wordless layer of enthusiasm on the lovely space. It is a bit of a contradiction that it can be enthusiastic and ambient at the same time, but that’s why I like it. Nomad is a lovely, elegant, peaceful work, and I commend it to anyone looking for those qualities.