THEORY OF EVERYTHING / DAVID-GALLAND-GUILLAUME-BRAFF: Mystery of a White Dwarf. Unexpected Discovery. Golden Age. Implosion. Time Travel. Separating Circle. You Are Here. Curved Wrinkles / Shijin: Stéphane Guillaume, t-sax/s-sax/fl/bs-cl; Malcolm Braff, pno/Fender Rhodes/CP-70 synth; Laurent David, e-bs; Stéphane Galland, dm / Socadisc CD & LP, privately released
Theory of Everything is the second full-length album released by Shijin, a co-op quartet originally comprised of two Americans and two Europeans, but now including only one American, bassist Laurent David who was born in Paris but is now based in Brooklyn. The promo material for this disc describes the music as being “first developed as duets, then completed by the other two musicians and finally put together into a complete format.” This disc is also described as a “concept album” although, from a musical standpoint, I hear little if any connection between the pieces on this disc.
There’s a certain free jazz feel to the opener, Mystery of a White Dwarf, as drummer Galland plays a series of irregular rhythms behind the free-form ideas of Guillaume’s tenor sax and piano and bass fill in. Pianist Braff then takes over for a pleasant solo before turning it back over to Guillaume. So far, my impression was that the saxist is the most interesting soloist on this disc. At about the 5:40 mark, however, Guillaume suddenly switches over to bass clarinet to play a series of grinding bass notes while the synthesizer wails overhead before riding the piece out.
Unexpected Discovery is a gentle, ballad-like piece with not much in the way of a theme, yet oddly Galland’s drums are much heavier on this track and dominate the musical landscape. Golden Age introduces an edgier beat driven by the synthesizer, followed by a Guillaume solo. Braff plays a rather rambling solo on the Fender Rhodes. By now the pattern has become clear: although Braff, David and Galland are all excellent players from a technical standpoint, it is Guillaume who is clearly the most interesting improviser in the quartet. They play with a tight ensemble, however, and though the pieces are not strong melodically or harmonically, they have very interesting rhythmic patterns.
This, then, places Shijin in the category of great promise but not yet to the point of delivering consistently interesting performances. Implosion, one of two tracks from this CD being released as a “single” (whatever that is nowadays, since 45s no longer exist) combines a funky beat with spacey electronics. It’s not too offensive to listen to but it’s not a particularly interesting piece of music. All of the interest is in the synthesizer, although here Braff plays one of his more interesting and well-developed piano solos. Time Travel, the other tune being released as a single, is pretty much innocuous music with a few neat twists of meter.
I found Shijin to be a group with far more promise than they deliver on this disc, but of course I’ve not heard them play in a live setting. Some of the music is interesting, parts of each piece are rather complex, but as a whole the music tends to be more of a patch quilt than what I would characterize as “finished” music except for Guillaume’s superb saxophone solos.
—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley
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