“The Gulistan of Sa’di” opens Limbic by Erik Austin Deerly and sounds like the soundtrack to a trek through a Middle Eastern desert on an extremely hot day. The rhythm rolls to a slow but steady grove, which is built upon an elastically fluid bass line with eerie keyboard sounds and mysterious saxophone. Deerly plays the saxophone on this recording, as well as possibly playing many other instruments. He also plays guitar, keyboards and multiple wind and percussion instruments throughout the project.
It is likely jazz has always been in Deerly’s blood. He’s the grandson of jazz singer Margie Little and saxophonist James Austin Little, after all. Although you might never guess it from these mostly ambient compositions, Deerly once fronted the indie band Every Good Boy. That 90s group also featured Brian Deck (Red Red Meat) on drums, Doug (Tortoise, Eleventh Dream Day) at the bass and Glenn Girard (also of Red Red Meat) playing guitar. In the indie world, Deerly’s fellow Every Good Boy musicians were members of some of the most respected groups.
The track “Ash-shab Yrid Isqat An-nizam” couldn’t be any more distant from jazz music. It has a consistent dance music snare beat, over which a saxophone and a bass snake together, both intertwining and separating at various junctures. Rather than a beat that reacts to the other players, the way jazz drumming usually does, these players build their solo playing over the established groove and follow it. Approximately four minutes into the track, the percussion drops out of the picture for a little off-kilter keyboard noodles and spooky melodic infusions.
This album’s title track includes a repeated bass-y groove, which sounds like the musical equivalent to a hospital operating room machine noise. Above it is a saxophone solo, which takes its sweet time seeking out a place to rest. It has the feel of a lonely dark night, when everyone’s asleep and insomnia has set in.
For something titled “Neda,” as one track is called, the vibe is liberally borrowed from India, with the tabla or tabla-like drums and what sounds like throat singing. These elements duke it out with orchestrated melodic fills. It’s kind of like how it would have sounded had Radiohead stepped back in time and joined The Beatles in India. Toward the end of this track, the singing becomes more intense while the percussion equally intensifies until its abrupt conclusion.
“Villa Las Estrellas” may well be this CD’s jazziest track. It has a sad, thoughtful bass line, which underpins similarly sad trumpet and saxophone. It sounds like something you might hear at a funeral, outside where the graveside ceremony is going on. It’d make a perfect casket-lowering tune. It is, for the most part acoustic –except for the bass instrumentation and what sounds like electronic effects. It does not have any drums, however. It creates a sad, yet also slightly scary, mood.
Deerly reaches back for more exotic percussion touches on “Willful Misconceptions.” The rhythm is sparse, but clunk-ily effective. The horn part is muted in a way that brings Miles Davis to mind. In fact, the whole production on this track sounds a little like what Davis once did so well, so many years ago with Bitches Brew.
Similar to the manner Davis stretched the boundaries and definitions of jazz back when he was breaking new ground with what the jazz critic world termed ‘jazz fusion,’ Erik Austin Deerly is also flexing his artistic muscles for much of Limbic. The traditional jazz world hated Davis’ incorporation of electronic instrumentation into his jazz, back when jazz and rock were about as segregated as the races once were in the U.S. Eventually, jazz and rock learned to play together better. However, Deerly’s music is neither jazz nor rock, but something in between, or far outside those genres. There really isn’t one lone word that can fit and summarize what Deerly has done here. Something tells me he’s happy about such categorization limitation. —Dan MacIntosh