Album Of The Week: Loose Ends by Taylor Barnett
Any release from a musician who splits his time between dutiful education and exciting fusion groups is going to be something you should listen to, but Loose Ends reaches beyond that. It’s not something to listen to, it’s something to dive headfirst in, regardless of genre allegiance, so you can experience all of its tantalizing beauty. With sweeping harmonies, dramatic diversions, and extraordinary talent, Taylor Barnett has created one of the most unique releases to come out of Richmond in 2018, sliding in right as the year winds down with an impressive release that should make you re-evaluate any year-end mix you may have created.
Despite its release date of December 17th, 2018, all of the five tracks date back to over a decade ago with two coming from a robust August, 2005 recording session and three coming from a more intimate session in December, 2008. What’s surprising is how connected these sessions are, a testament to the judicious supervision of the VCU assistant professor and No BS! trumpet player. A careful listen can determine which tracks came out of which session, but the fact that it’s not instantly apparent speaks volumes to the care and poise with which these compositions were written, performed, and recorded.
The record opens up with the most accessible of the five-tracks, the twisty and harmonious “What Do You Think Of Me?” The delicate instrumentation at the start is driven by airy, wordless vocalizations that keep the composition grounded in the abstract, as if to show that the titular question of the track is unanswerable. Fans of a more radio-friendly sound will enjoy a nice electric guitar section in the middle of the track, a pleasing curveball serving as a logical twist that feels felicitous yet still surprising. Another curveball follows that with a deep, pensive woodwind section that provides a nice contrast to the electric offerings preceding it, before the whole song returns to its original melody with a crisp finish.
“UnNamed” follows next with a jazzy, sinking melody that starts high before descending into a cavalcade of improvisation. Like the song before it, Barnett offers a clarifying resolution to his musical scenarios, this time with a quick, but stout finish.
“Bartalk,” the third track, might be the most memorable of the compositions on Loose Ends, despite being the shortest song on the EP by a good margin. The song plays out like a capricious chase scene from a classic noir film, following a titular bar talk scene where the detective finally connects all the dots before being discovered by the nefarious antagonist. It’s furtively nomadic, free to comment on the moving landscape of that chase scene with no limitations, in the same vein the other songs on this EP operate.
“Growing Apart Together” builds on the furtive mystery of “Bartalk,” but tackles it with much more delicate emotion, driven by patient bass notes and muted, but ringing brass parts. It comments perfectly on the idea of “growing apart together,” a bitter and moving concept that can creep up on you in the same way this compositions will creep into your subconscious with its salient finesse.
Closing track “Shine” is a full big band affair, with swinging parts that trapeze through your ears as another dazzling set of harmonies gear up in the background for the next sonic tumble. The flashy harmonies support the truly ingenious melodies that really help the song shimmer and dazzle, like the song’s title correctly implies. The electric guitar rears its head again here and while it doesn’t provide the curveball it does at the beginning of the record, it still provides a nice detour from the classic swing with a modern jazz approach that feels vibrant and urgent.
But even without that electric guitar, the song and record itself would still have a sense of lively insistence to it, thanks to the formative vision driving all of the proficient energy captured on the five tracks. It all certainly has a feeling of looseness, but no moment of this record feels like a loose end. Instead, what we’re presented with is precise and profound compositions performed by big band and septet groups that anyone would be lucky enough to experience, either live or in the convenience of your own headphones.