Recommended: Jonathan Rowden’s WYR – “Terranigma” and “Nova”


On successive nights in September of last year, saxophonist Jonathan Rowden and his new ensemble WYR performed entirely improvised pieces.  The second night’s show was at the Blue Whale in Downtown Los Angeles, CA, and it resulted in the recording Terranigma.

Though improvised, the music of Terranigma possesses a narrative flow.

The opening saxophone blasts and raging percussion set the scene and elicit a sense of immediacy… things are happening now.  But then the ensemble settles into the patient building of the story, focusing on the nuance and tiny details that eventually feed the transformation into a massive presence and literary presentation.

At times, it’s poetry coming from the voices of Areni Agbabian and Joanna Wallfisch, while other times they mimic the sound of woodwinds, their harmonies like moonlight capturing the fluttering path of Rowden’s saxophone fireflies.  The electronics and effects and looping are no more distinguishable from the whole than soft ripples on a lake surface.

The second movement of Terranigma doubles down on the subtleties.  The percussive chatter of James Yoshizawa and Chris Wabich isn’t a direct line of communication, nor is it a straight-forward message.  It is as if they’re applying a director’s commentary to each others soundtrack.  And yet, when saxophone and voices join in, they achieve a seamless unison, as if this were a kind of conversation had all the time.  But keeping in line with the narrative flow, it’s no surprise either that the expressionism enters a phase when a quiet dialog between Rowden and pianist Agbabian creates a late night jazz club scene or that it, in turn, enters successive transformations into ambient minimalism, a series of melodic lightning strikes, and a flirtation with a groove before entering the same state of chaotic drama with which the piece began.

Your album personnel:  Jonathan Rowden (tenor & soprano saxophones, electronic effects, sampling), Areni Agbabian (prepared piano, voice), Joanna Wallfisch (voice, electronic effects), Chris Wabich (drums, percussion, Fender Rhodes) and James Yoshizawa (drums, percussion).

The recording Nova is from a performance the night before that of Terranigma.  For this performance, held at McKinney Theater at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, CA, it was just the trio of Rowden, Wabich and Yoshizawa.

And where Terranigma presented itself as a multi-phase tone poem, the Nova performance opens things up much wider, and the pared down sound results in a more focused range of expressions while allowing for the individual moments to express themselves in greater detail.

The electronics go from ripples to the force of waves.  Rowden’s sax articulates itself with an expanded lexicon, but more often in the service of imagery than poetry.  The motion spurred on by the percussion of Wabich and Yoshizawa becomes as significant as its cadence, and they display a greater willingness to adopt divergent paths.  There’s even moments of pleasant tunefulness that emerge halfway through the second movement, with a particularly special passage when Wabich switches over to steel pan.

Your album personnel:  Jonathan Rowden (tenor & soprano saxophones, electronic effects, sampling, flute head-joint, found percussion), Chris Wabich (drums, percussion, steel pan) and James Yoshizawa (drums, percussion).

It’s very easy to tell that Rowden’s vision guided both performances, but the nature of improvised music holds steady and results in two recordings with very different, equally enjoyable identities.

You can hear more from each performance and purchase them at Rowden’s Bandcamp page.

Here’s the LINK for Nova.  Here’s the LINK for Terranigma.

Also worth noting that another Rowden recording, Becoming, received a warm recommendation on this site.

Read more (LINK).

Also worth noting that we’ll be featuring a very cool video from that performance tomorrow morning, so be sure to check back in soon.