With Songs of the Brother Spirit, Joshua Kwassman set out to tell a story. The themes surrounding this exploratory jazz concept record center around brotherhood, youthful experience, and the lasting effects of adventure on the adult that must leave it behind. Written largely in tribute to a friend that would lead him on these adventures, the songs on Brother Spirit are often meandering, almost directionless, taking the listener down unmarked trails of sonic territory.
The magnificent opener, “Our Land” is an epic in many senses. Stretching comfortably over nine and a half minutes, Kwassman drives us ever onward through mazes of piano virtuosity, saxophone heroics, and increasingly potent percussion. The finale, coming at the eight minute mark, is nothing short of brilliant and will leave you breathless. “We Were Kids” is an exuberant, emotional jaunt. The many moods and melodies embodied on this song would be enough to score an entire movie with. This is one aspect of the album as a whole that I really loved: it’s incredibly cinematic. However this is something of a double edged sword, as the length and ever-evolving nature of the songs themselves can be difficult to focus on.
Such is the case with “In Light There is Song”. This twelve minute opus begins softly, as the piano caresses itself into your heart and mind. Steadily the territory fills with sound, as woodwinds, bass, and guitar fill in the gabs above a beautiful percussive arrangement. Vocal work from Arielle Feinman rests just slightly above this mix, coinciding fairly well with the sax and the guitar. While I enjoyed the vocals (which are devoid of lyrics), I felt at times that it was a bit of a distraction from the rest of the instrumentation. As “In Light” drives ever onward, passages of almost free-form collaborative energy take hold. The excitement ramps up seven minutes in as drummer Rodrigo Recabarren mimics the pitter-patter of rain. The ensuing chaos is mind-blowing, and must be experienced to be believed. The climax of this tune makes way for an ambient segment that hears Kwassman mimicking geese beside a pond as the piano narrates the sun’s setting.
“2/22” follows “In Light”, featuring minimal guitar work alongside a lovely piano and vocal duet. This track charmed me greatly and proved to be one of my favorites on the record with its peaceful simplicity. “Meditation” comes next, dominated largely by Kwassman’s provocative piano work. The vocals return along with several woodwinds to close this one out well. These two shorter tracks deliver the listener to the album’s conclusion, spread throughout three tracks, with “The Nowhere Trail”. Words fail me with this more than twenty minute composition, which is probably a good thing. Suffice to say that with this song Kwassman has crafted something truly grandiose that should be heard rather than talked about.
While I had only a few records with which to compare Songs of the Brother Spirit, I will say that as a complete album I truly enjoyed it. For lovers of jazz, film scores or just good background music for reading a great book I would highly recommend it. However I must stress that this is not for the uninitiated. Kwassman has taken a risk with this record, putting a great deal of himself and his experiences into the music. As such the music can be overwhelming and extremely difficult to follow even if you pay close attention. So if you’re feeling adventurous, give yourself over to this record and try not to get lost on the way back.
MP3: Joshua Kwassman “We Were Kids”