I generally consider Brandon Seabrook a jazz guitarist, and over the years he’s made plenty of recordings where he plays in that tradition, both in relatively straightforward bands led by the likes of Ben Allison, Jeremy Udden, and Eivind Opsvik and in unusually charged ways alongside folks such as saxophonist Chris Pitsiokos and drummer Tomas Fujiwara. Seabrook’s main instrument is electric guitar, but he’s also done a lot of fascinating playing on tenor banjo, including in Brian Carpenter’s exploratory trad-jazz ensemble the Ghost Train Orchestra and his own early trio Seabrook Power Plant. But this year Seabrook has released two powerful records that explicitly tap into his roots in metal, though it’d be risky to describe them as either metal or jazz.
The most recent of those titles is the self-titled debut EP of his trio Needle Driver (released by Nefarious Industries), whose sound borders on technical metal. (I’m ignorant of metal’s subgenres, so I had to consult my editor, Philip Montoro, for clarification.) The EP consists of five complex, idea-packed instrumentals with wildly shifting time signatures, rapid-fire chord changes, sinister riffing, and characteristically spastic solo explosions from Seabrook that gravitate toward the upper register of his instrument (though using a curdled, scrabbling sound rather than a clean, piercing one).
Seabrook’s bandmates are as well-established in the jazz world as he is: bassist Johnny DeBlase works in both metal and jazz, playing with the likes of Zevious and Sabbath Assembly, while drummer Allison Miller leads several great jazz bands, including Boom Tic Boom (she’s also worked extensively with singer-songwriters such as Ani DiFranco, Natalie Merchant, and Brandi Carlile). Sometimes the trio back the throttle off from full speed—”Ventwhorerisin’,” for instance, opens with creepy ambience—but they always interrupt those moments with an explosion of martial ferocity. “Opticidal Flavorist” segues from a careening, paint-peeling solo that cycles through various grooves into layers of droning arpeggios and zigzagging licks over churning, stuttering rhythms. Below you can check out “Ocular Rabies,” a typically dizzying display of Needle Driver’s propulsive confusion and airtight precision.
On the spooky “Shamans Never R.S.V.P.,” Seabrook plays ominously ringing little guitar figures over shuffling beats, viscous cello tones, snapping double bass, and Bettis’s quasi-operatic cries. “Rhizomatic” veers into a weird nexus of sub-bass frequencies, rustling brushed snare drum, cello scrapes, and quiet, spindly guitar tangles. The group is wonderful at opening up or tightening down, not just from track to track but sometimes within a single piece—such as “Emotional Cleavage,” which is exhilarating as it is exhausting, colliding moody Bartokian overtones with unhinged brutal prog. You can listen to it below, but even this track’s impressive stylistic range doesn’t convey the amazing breadth of the album.
Mike Caratti/Rachel Musson/Steve Beresford, Hesitantly Pleasant (Iluso)
Martin Arnold, The Spit Veleta (Another Timbre)
Will Guthrie, People Pleaser (Black Truffle)
Martin Fröst/Lucas Debargue/Janine Jansen/Torleif Thedéen, Messiaen: Quatuor Pour la Fin du Temps (Sony Classical)
Brutter, Reveal and Rise (Hubro)