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Nature Documentary

    Rising from the ashes of an abandoned liquor store, the Broad Street Visitors Center recording studio in Atlanta was founded by Dan Bailey and Jared Pepper, who first began construction on it in 2014 and were among the first in a group of people looking to transform the South Downtown area. With the space completed, Bailey and Pepper began inviting musicians from the local experimental and jazz scenes to jam out together, creating the foundation of musical collective Visitors in the process. And while the band would often included the efforts of dozens of musicians, they eventually settled into a steady lineup of Bailey on bass and Pepper behind the drums, with percussionist Kenneth Kenito Murray, keyboard player Gage Gilmore, synth player Jeremi Johnson and flutist Rasheeda Ali filling out the roster.

    Their music, generally improvised, takes the fractured rhythms of jazz and merges them with a psychedelic sound collage of wandering tones and splintered melodies. But it's not as undirected as you might expect -- all the cacophony may seem piecemeal at first glance, but it builds slowly over the course of their records to settle into a sort of segmented musical reality, a brash and cosmic collection of sounds that speaks to each member's expansive influences and experiences. And on their latest release, "Nature Documentary," the group further extends their rhythmic exploration into mile-wide chasms of spontaneous noise and blustery improvisation.

    The collection opens with "Hell," a vast expanse of sound that feels inexhaustible in its energy, fitting disparate melodies over the bones of a handful of different genres. But like any complex art, the superficial impression is only the beginning of our understanding of what Visitors are looking to accomplish here. "Origami" sounds like Sun Ra jamming with Fela Kuti and "Bitches Brew"-era Miles Davis; it's a clattering mix of post-jazz reflection and swirling melody. Embedded within its length are moments of sublime revelation, an overwhelming emotionality that hits you on a primal level. There are a few meandering bits (the somewhat repetitive delivery and resolution of "Nature Documentary" comes to mind), but taken as whole, these songs hit your chest with the force of a small bomb.

    But the high point of "Nature Documentary" has to be the 9-minute opus, "The Final Ballet," a juggernaut that utterly demolishes any expectations you might have had and reshapes your understanding of what is possible when a band's talent and ambition square off on an equal playing field. There are so many times when you think you have it figured out, and then it just shifts its tracks and leaves you gasping for air. What is all the more stunning is just how easy they make it sound. This is complex music that doesn't distance itself from its audience; rather, it welcomes the company, content to offer up its experimental jazz secrets for our perusal. There are times when you do want to take a moment to try to untangle its knotty and labyrinthine infrastructure, to find the connective tissue among its influences, but you'd best be quick about it -- by the time you regain your senses, the band is already set to move on to the next jaw-dropping movement.

    Harriet Tubman

    The Terror End Of Beauty

      The runner dashes toward the cliff’s edge, his hang glider’s wings rattling above. He has reached the crest and, before he can think to stop, he is falling. For those few seconds before the wind mercifully sweeps him away, he is in a freefall, in a state of exhilaration, heightened awareness and, perhaps, terror. Yet, he has committed himself and had to push through the fear in order to soar.

      The members of Harriet Tubman find this an apt analogy for their musical approach. For over two decades, guitarist Brandon Ross, bassist Melvin Gibbs and drummer JT Lewis have thrown themselves into making music that is sans genre, infective and overpowering. Their years of experience playing alongside and driving many of the improvised music, jazz and rock’s most celebrated ensembles have prepared them to run this gauntlet, The Terror End of Beauty.

      The world of progressive and improvised music has lost a number of luminaries over the past few years. The passing of Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor and Ronald Shannon Jackson, among others, has left their heirs to grab the reins of the avant-garde. Harriet Tubman is ready to take the lead in this regard and show the world at large where the music is going. The band lives in the musical space between improvisation and composed music, giving all they have on every performance. Harriet Tubman also continues the legacy of being activists in their music, as can be read quite clearly in tone and title.

      As their illustrious predecessors have done, Harriet Tubman approaches their music making without preconceived notions of what it needs to be. It is only music that is necessary to make and, to make it, the band must commit fully to its creation. Harriet Tubman has taken this approach to live performance, bowling over musicians and fans alike, and, up to this point, in the recording studio, having released live performances, whether in concert or through-performed in the studio.

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