Premiere: Scott Clark Finds The Richmond Sound On New Album, Dusk & Dawn
Covering the music scene for all these years, I often get asked if there is a “Richmond sound,” a specific approach or style that you can point to as not only being unique to the area but also indicative of it. It’s a hard question to answer as there’s not something definitive like country for Nashville or grunge for Seattle. At times, I’ve played around with some variations of “the scene that elevates itself,” a play off the original moniker used to describe shoegaze acts from the Thames Valley region. This seems to embody the collaborative spirit that makes Richmond so exciting, where you can find a classical composer masquerading as a punk rock musician at night, or vice versa depending on who you ask. But does that mean there is a “Richmond sound?” I’d lean towards no overall, though you could certainly point to a Richmond brand of death metal or RVA gritty hip-hop. Looking at the city’s illustrious jazz scene, Richmond’s imprint becomes more visible with a unique sound guided by a core jazz program at VCU and a hectic landscape that welcomes creative disciples and cagey iconoclast, both monikers which could be applied to composer and drummer Scott Clark.
Embedded within the fabric of Richmond’s jazz scene over the past twenty years, Clark can easily list off the city’s credentials when it comes to other famed jazz scenes, most notably Chicago’s free jazz movement which served as an early inspiration. Our resume is certainly there when you list off the people who’ve come through the area, from famed saxophonist Darius Jones down to any of the talented members of Butcher Brown. One thing they all have in common is their penchant for defying conventions and shattering expectations, and that’s something Clark himself is taking to a new level on his new record, Dusk & Dawn. Out everywhere on Friday, August 25th via Out Of Your Head Records, this four-piece movement presented in two parts is another bold step from Clark as he continues to buck standards and traditions in order to deliver a simple yet stately message. Today, The Auricular is honored to premiere this album a day before its release, with an exclusive stream below as well as some insight into what makes this record utterly brilliant.
Dawn & Dusk is a suite that finds the famed composer and performer exploring the glow and resonance of drone music through the use of repetitive lines and minimalist compositions. Facile melodies and simple harmonies are stretched throughout entire movements, trading from one performer to the next in a way that brings depth and shade to the music. In a way, it could be viewed as a compositional exercise in tautology that helps let the listener’s mind stay focused through each movement in order to really understand and feel everything happening, whether it be pianist Michael McNeill playing in the margins of the chordal structure or the drumming of Scott Clark working to both elongate and punctuate moments and statements. In totality though, this record is a deconstruction of the classic yin and yang archetype: the dark and the light dressed up within the context of droning repetition and improvisational wonder. Whichever way you choose to look at it, Clark has created something truly cunning here, a suite that flies against the norms of improvised music scenes that Scott Clark has frequented over the last twenty years.
Previously known for introspective works, political statements, and personal reflections, Dusk & Dawn offers a new light in which to view Scott Clark, where the unconventional approach to his free jazz influence shines bright. In the same vein true punk music grew beyond loud, electric bar chords, Clark helps push free jazz into a space where spontaneous ingenuity is not only unwelcome but unnecessary for the overall sound. Drop this suite into any jazz club and I’m sure the reaction would be harsh and derisive, much like the way jazz legends like Miles Davis responded to early performances by Ornette Coleman. But breaking those conventions and defying expectations has always been at the heart of musical innovation, which is exactly what you can feel as each movement unfolds on Dusk & Dawn.
It’s an album of several firsts for Scott Clark and his team. It’s the first time both curators from Out Of Your Head Records — Scott Clark on drums and Adam Hopkins on bass — have been featured on a record despite playing for years together and putting out 29 records through OOYH. It’s also the first release from OOYH Records to feature both a studio and live performance, something that came about during the topsy-turvy pandemic era. Originally recorded at Lance Koehler’s famed studio Minimum Wage Recording, the ensemble came together to perform the whole suite live at Spacebomb seven months later, which was recorded in high quality. The result is a record that offers two parallel interpretations of the suite, each staying mostly true to the other while still offering deviations and alterations. Those changes, whether subtle or distinct, end up encouraging listeners to dive back into the record for multiple listens, allowing Dusk & Dawn space to occupy each listener’s mind while resonating with their soul. It’s a winning combination, one that OOYH Records is thankfully looking to continue for future releases.
Most importantly to the music though, Dusk & Dawn is the first album from Scott Clark to feature lyrics and vocals, which adds a fresh dimension to the first three movements of the suite. Performed by longtime collaborator Laura Ann Singh, this new organic instrument helps give direction and context to the sound, allowing the listener to zero in on the statement Clark is making with this record. “The color gray in all its shades \It shines in bright, dull tones to \ This hum of life \ This hum of life \ It’s shown, not lived but thrown away,” Singh sings in the second movement offering us sharp insight into the vibrant potential drone music can offer, especially when performed by musicians renowned for their improvisational skill.
That restraint defines much of the record, letting the overall suite play with tension and reservation in a way that matches the nocturnal path noted in its title. On the final movement, “Above The Gray,” the full ensemble lets loose as JC Kuhl (bass clarinet) and Bob Miller (flugelhorn) perform with gusto while the rhythmic duo of OOYH members Hopkins and Clark ignite the spark that leads to its final push. That push though, as frenetic and vivid as it is, never feels out of place with the rest of the record. So much of Dusk & Dawn is about making the performers lock into a specific mood elongated over time with single notes or simple phrases. When it finally comes time for the ensemble to stretch out and explore the space, they do so with dedication to what came before them, releasing that pent-up creativity with a prudent mind that ends up enriching the textural ground around them.
Like with any Scott Clark record, whether solo or released under the ensemble name ScottClark4tet, each listen of Dusk & Dawn will reveal more loose threads to unravel, more uneven paths to traverse, and more hidden marvels to wonder at. Unlike his other records though, something about finding those threads, paths, and marvels feels more satisfying this time around. It could be because the pairing of studio and live recordings helps to highlight those less obvious treasures. Or maybe it’s that the droning sound allows the sly skill and nimble insight to radiate within the compositions. Of course, there’s also the visceral ebb and flow of the music, tied to the daily passage of time, that lends itself to a satisfying crest. Or it could be that Scott Clark has captured a brilliant interpretation of free jazz that helps elevate those who experience it, gifting them a greater appreciation of restraint and dexterity, as well as music on a whole where each style and genre can help prop up another, allowing listeners and fans to appreciate and understand on a broader level. Funny… that kind of sounds like Richmond’s music scene overall, doesn’t it? Well, maybe there is a “Richmond sound” after all. Guess all I needed to answer “yes” was a tremendous album from Scott Clark.
Dusk & Dawn is out everywhere on Friday, August 25th via Out Of Your Head Records. You can find it on all streaming platforms, and also order physical copies on CD and vinyl by clicking here. For more purchasing and streaming information, head to outofyourheadrecords.com.