Colorlist: Sky Song

One comes to an album by a band named Colorlist and a label called Serein with certain expectations, specifically that the recording might be something in the way of serene ambient-electronica. But expectations can be wrong, as Sky Song, Colorlist's third album and Serein follow-up to 2011's The Fastest Way To Become The Ocean EP, makes clear. The music's noticeably looser and more spontaneous than the ambient-electronica norm for one, but it's also stylistically different, too, with Colorlist's sound more akin to jazz improv than ambient per se. Before hearing the release, one clue about the group's sound is provided on its sleeve: that the group's two members, Charles Gorczynski and Charles Rumback, play woodwinds, synths, drums, and bells on the recording's eight pieces. Guests do appear—guitarist Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and modular synth players Josh Eustis (Telefon Tel Aviv) and John Hughes (Hefty Records founder)—but on one track only (“Currents”). Eustis and Hughes might also be responsible, in part, for the album's overall sound and feel, given that the two recorded the album at HFT Studios in Chicago.

Rumback fills the opening seconds of “Sun Song” with tom-toms and cymbals in an open style that recalls Elvin Jones, and the jazz feel is reinforced the moment Gorczynski enters with fluttering sax patterns. But Colorlist also distances itself from a pure acoustic jazz style when the piece morphs into a multi-layered meditation that sees flutes as well as saxophones swelling into an almost hymnal reverie that gradually slows to a point of near-stillness. The harmonious addition of analogue synthesizers to the album material also does much to define its sound, while at the same time making it less easy to classify—not a bad thing, incidentally. In many of the eight settings, the natural qualities of the woodwinds and drums act as an ear-catching counterpoint to the synthesizer's warm timbres.

Parker's presence on “Currents” makes a significant difference, and one wishes that he might have been included on more than one piece, even if it would have altered the listener's overall impression of the Colorlist sound. The track's eleven-minute running time gives him and the others ample opportunity to ruminate, and consequently the music flows naturally and develops organically. Gorczynski waxes thoughtfully on saxophone, while Parker and Rumback muse freely alongside one another, the guitarist's textures sometimes smothered by the drummer's explorative flow. The track's arguably the densest of the lot, due in part to the inclusion of modular synth textures. Having said that, the pieces featuring Gorczynski and Rumback alone are typically dense, too, on account of the multi-layered approach applied by the duo.

Some pieces do gravitate towards the jazzier end of the spectrum (“Waiting,” with its dirge-like woodwinds phrases), whereas others inhabit a middle ground where free-flowing improv and electronic gestures sit side-by-side (“Sky Song”). Multi-layering aside, “Through the Fires” features impassioned tenor sax playing that can't help but call John Coltrane to mind and when the drums aggressively kick in, one is also reminded of how Elvin Jones shadowed his bandleader's every move. If the piece doesn't quite stoke the same volcanic fire as Interstellar Space, Coltrane's 1967 tête-à-tête with Rashied Ali, it's powerful nonetheless, much like the album of which it's a part.

November 2013