Gospel of Mars: Gospel of Mars
Amish Records

The paths of Gospel of Mars' members crossed many times before the band's 2012 formation. Saxophonist Jef Brown and drummer Aaron Moore first met in 2002 when each was touring Europe with their respective bands; two years later, double bassist Bob Jones joined Brown when he launched The Evolutionary Jass Band. Flash forward to 2012 where Brown asks Moore—both now ensconced in Greenpoint, Brooklyn—to accompany him at the performance space Zebulon, to which the reply, “I'm not a proper drummer” is met by Brown's “Good. I'm not a proper saxophonist.” With Jones later folded into the mix, Gospel of Mars crystallized, which in the years since has established itself through gigs at the Brooklyn bar Troost and a genre-defying sound that pulls from ‘60s jazz, World music, psychedelic rock, and pretty much anything else that strikes their fancy.

While those comments by Moore and Brown could be interpreted in different ways, I'm guessing they're using ‘proper' to mean formally untrained; let's just say neither of these outsiders would be on Wynton's first-call list for the next Jazz at Lincoln Center gig (not that either would be interested anyway). Which brings us to the trio's self-produced vinyl debut, forty-one minutes of eclectic material that grew from recordings laid down over two years at the band's practice space (for the record, live material was issued digitally before the vinyl release). At times raw and incendiary, the disc finds the group stoking a fierce blaze on a number of cuts and bringing the intensity level down on others. Brown's main axe is tenor sax, but his guitar playing is also prominently featured on the six-track date.

“Moon” roars from the gate, Moore and Jones powering the music with a pummeling, primal pulse as Brown brays and wails forcefully alongside the tom-toms-heavy tumult, the sax playing calling to mind lethal incinerations by free jazz firebrands from a half-century ago. But rather than spin variations on the opener's theme, most of the subsequent tracks reveal other sides, beginning with “Scarabs,” where the trio digs into a modal groove and eventually layers acoustic guitar and hand percussion in amongst Brown's sax. “Octopus” puts even greater distance between it and the opener when his rather dextrous playing on Spanish guitar (or at least what sounds like it) couples with a high-energy attack to send the music into Middle Eastern territories.

Side B mirrors the first in starting things off on a barn-burning pitch, this time “Hamish” leading the raucous charge, after which the ghost of Albert Ayler shadows Brown's vibrato-inflected playing during the ruminative exploration “(Something) about Cones.” The album's final surprise comes with “Tesla,” a guitar-heavy jam that plays like some early Doors' run-through of “The End” recorded with Morrison MIA. With Moore doing his best John Densmore, Brown digs into the free-wheeling material like a man possessed, giving himself over to vicious snarl during his stinging, slide-drenched solo and making the most of the nine-minute ride. Such material indicates that while there may be lots of words to describe Gospel of Mars' sound, polite isn't one of them.

January 2018