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WAH - “Travellers Station” (2016) review


 WAH - Travellers Station (Assophon Records, 2016)

Travellers Station, the newest release from Seattle creative jazz duo WAH, is an album rooted in post bop jazz composition as much as in experimentation. Available on vinyl LP only, the core personnel consists of jazz and experimental music guitarist Simon Henneman and improv jazz, rhythm and blues and rock drummer Gregg Keplinger. They are also joined by several other musicians who make guest appearances on different tracks throughout the album. Dave Abramson, Henneman’s band mate in the psychedelic rock trio Diminished Men, co-produced, mixed, and played percussion.

Side A begins with “Alpha Rayo,” Keplinger laid back and not quite inside the pocket. Neil Welch and Ray Larsen comp each other on saxophone and trumpet, respectively, Larsen reaching into the ether. Henneman’s guitar is played through loops and effects, diving and changing key.

This is an album of moods and colorful statements so vivid and real that they can be touched. Solos may be had on a whim, but while Bob Rees’s vibes and Henneman’s guitar set the tone over Keplinger’s relaxed approach to the drums, Larsen searches out musical and spiritual heights and depths. Meanwhile, there is a basic structure, one that shifts and changes at the will of the music and the musicians, then things explode into chaos and break apart.

Simon Henneman © Jack Gold-Molina

There is something great to be had in a piece of music when you have to ask yourself, “Is this jazz?” This album does exactly that. Yes, it is jazz…but it is also so much more. Things float like musical entities on their way to and from their existing demesnes, yet while also seeking new domains. On “Big-Time,” Henneman plays with cleanly felt raunch, Keplinger laying it down on the cowbell and then the hi hat with a solid backbeat, drum tones open. The tune stops again and again, Henneman’s chords speaking for themselves independently like the deconstruction of the rhythmic structure.

“Narcotomy” features fine brush work on the part of Keplinger, a beautiful acoustic bass line by Carmen Rothwell, and abstractly stated piano performed by either Luke Bergman or Jacques Willis – as designated by the word “maybe” in the credits. On “Fever Dream,” Henneman, Larsen and Willis play off of each other, Willis playing vibes, in a cohesive free-form excursion. Willis’s vibes create and underscore the tone and mood of the piece. The same can be said for Rees, whose vibe playing on “Sea Deep” complements Henneman’s noirish chords like stars against the blackness of a clear sky – a rare thing in the world of chaos and dissonant musical vibrato.

Gregg Keplinger © Jack Gold-Molina

Katie Jacobsen’s vocalizing is unsettling on “’Til The End,” Welch and Larsen once again blowing after and against each other over Keplinger and Rothwell, who break up the time thereby achieving balance while Henneman launches into solo adding to the cacophony. The album comes to its end coolly with the groove of “The Combine.” The melody is sung by Jacobsen and played by Welch, Larsen soloing meanwhile in the background, Henneman unsympathetic with a beautifully clean yet fierce guitar chord. In what can still be called time, sax, trumpet, guitar and voice all speak to each other, Keplinger and Rothwell in earthy syncopation, until it all fades away into groove and melody. 

- Jack Gold-Molina
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