Dec 2 2016
Some albums are able to get as loud as they want and still occupy a very tranquil place. It’s “May Day,” the third track on guitarist Ryan Blotnick’s newest, that signals Kush is one of those recordings. It begins peaceably, but with an insistent bit of melodicism. That insistence grows into an imperative, and that’s when voices get raised. The opening salvo is Michael Blake’s tenor sax and then spreads from there. The thing of it is, even as the intensity gradually increases, the heat generated still possesses the presence of embers burning furiously in a fireplace. And that’s because the previous track “Lunenburg” laid down a scene of sunset melodicism streaking colors across the song, and sometimes the light burned too brightly to look in the eye, but all of it was soothing and welcome. That had a lot to do with opening track “Kush” and its ambient presence, where glittering fragments of melody are a night full of stars and the twittering rhythm section are the crickets calling up to it.
And so when fourth track “Churchy” dovetails with the opening passages of serenity, it’s as if the album never left that state in the first place. The gentle back and forth sway on “Delaware” holds strong, so even when Blotnick lights a fire during a solo and Blake follows right behind and pours gasoline over it, the bass and drums of Scott Colberg and RJ Miller make sure there’s still that feeling that this was a song to dance along slowly to.
Not all albums are constructed this way. That how it should be, really. There’s any number of alternatives to presenting music, and how to roll out the creative vision guiding the musician to put the album together in the first place. Kush comes out with a strong opening statement, a pronouncement of how the spirit of the recording will manifest and how the abiding tone will carry. It creates an interpretative context for everything that comes after. The quieter, serene moments reinforce that thesis statement and those with volatility only come off as intriguing divergences from the album’s tranquil personality. So even when the album ends with the boisterous “Spring,” the walking-away impression is that this is an album best suited for when peaceful music is a requirement. That’s not an easy thing to accomplish and it shows the strength of this album, that it’s opening moments are able to resonate throughout the entirety of the recording.
Your album personnel: Ryan Blotnick (guitar), Michael Blake (tenor & soprano saxes), Scott Colberg (bass), RJ Miller (drums) and guest: Jonny Lam (pedal steel).
Released on Songlines Recordings.
Listen to more of the album at the artist’s Bandcamp page.
Jazz from the Southwest Harbor, Maine scene.