EP: Meeting of the Minds by Ari Joshua

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Seattle’s trailblazer jazzist Ari Joshua’s return comes in the form of a behemoth album of avant-garde and improvised jazz that relies on freeform performances from some of the game’s more illustrious names. Namely, John Medeski, Billy Martin, and Jason Fraticelli on keyboards, drums, and bass respectively, with Joshua handling the guitars.

Joshua is a Seattle-based composer and guitarist who is particularly gifted in crafting technically challenging avant-garde jazz pieces. So gifted that his latest album, titled Meeting of the Minds, sees him finalize twenty pieces of music before bringing them into the studio, where the rest of the group have positively breathed life into them, by being right there in the moment, with an intimate chemistry between them conjured that resulted in some truly fresh and tight, lengthy improv sections, that puts each member of the small ensemble in the right spot at all the right times. The starting piece, aptly titled Meeting of the Minds, is a monumental 27-minute beast that goes through endless sections that vary from the hushed, the whimsical, and the ferocious, to the downright terrifying. 

The titular piece shifts and heaves, and after a mostly ambient and experimental first half, the piece gracefully ramps up in momentum and dynamic until it reaches an explosive final scene of bombastic drumming, flamboyant organ solos, and crazed basslines. The hushed sections are the most whimsical. Usually incorporating slide guitars, drones, and ambient effects, the resulting sounds are equally exotic and alien, at times humorous, but most alarming in their unfamiliarity. 

Provocative and imaginative, the majority of the sounds in this collection have an ample ability to conjure up images and paint sonic landscapes, with loose and expressive brushstrokes that leave enough space to be filled by the listener’s imagination. A scene of a forest with stalking gnomes lurking in the shadows, preparing to ambush, another of a haunted seaside with majestic jellyfish and cetaceans floating in the sky are just two of the plethora of paintings I was able to imagine while immersing myself in the sounds of this rich and rewarding recording.

Meeting of the Minds will surely reward the patience among the listeners, and it luckily doesn’t require much patience, as while its compositions quite often border on harrowing and unintelligible, they more often than not retain a sonic quality that made it easy to go through the whole piece three consecutive times to write this piece. An experimental and demanding piece of work for sure, but one that’s lush, thought-provoking, adventurous, and at many moments, fun.

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