Synthetic Love Dream: The Royal Scotsman

The backstory to Brooklyn-based outfit Synthetic Love Dream's latest opus adds an interesting dimension to the hour-long set's material. HMS Royal Scotsman, you see, was the original name for the Apollo, the ship owned by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and upon which he spent days drinking, smoking, writing, and, apparently, throwing devout followers overboard to purify them. As the recording's two lengthy pieces play, it's easy to visualize the ship lazily drifting with Hubbard and company aboard, swilling cocktails and lolling about, especially when a field recording of ocean surf accompanies the musicians' playing, a recording, in fact, captured at Belleair Beach in Florida where the Apollo and its crew sailed.

Performed by saxophonist David Lackner (tenor and soprano), pianist Adrian Knight, drummer Derek Vockins, and Max Zuckerman on guitar and bass, the half-hour title composition emits a rather narcotizing glow when waves of bluesy tenor sax, rippling pianos, and reverb-drenched guitar textures fill the air for minutes on end. That aforesaid field recording adds to the music's sundazed character, as does its metreless presentation; stylistically, one might describe the music as a rather cocktail-like, slow-burning mix of ambient, jazz, and blues that advances organically through different phases without ever deviating too dramatically from its originating style. As ripples of multi-layered sounds undulate slowly, Lackner plays with a kind of controlled ecstasy, his lead soloing supported throughout by Knight's Steinway L Baby Grand and Zuckerman's shimmering guitar chords.

Expanded to a septet, the quartet featured on “The Royal Scotsman” (Lackner now on soprano) is augmented on the second setting, “On This Day,” by violist Genevieve Kammel-Morris, percussionist Mike Advenski, and, in the biggest change-up, soul and R&B singer Billy G. Robinson (BT Express, Apollo Theater). “On This Day” perpetuates the drowsy sprawl of the opener for its first nine minutes, after which a two-note bass riff announces a shift to a vocal-driven modal blues form. During the seventeen-minute sequence, Vockins grounds the track with a heavy pulse, Advenski adds colour using shakers and other instruments, and Lackner solos extensively, sometimes behind the vocal and sometimes alternating with it. Robinson's appealing croon enhances the material, though whatever particular meaning cryptic lines such as “It was one year from today / There was so much I needed to say” possess is up to the listener to decide. Things generally remain at a composed level for the majority of the performance, though Lackner's playing grows wilder as the piece approaches its fade-out.

There's an appealingly relaxed feel to the playing that perhaps can be attributed, at least in part, to the recording process: both performances were laid down at Knight's then-residence in Brooklyn with the musicians recorded live within a large living room space. A few overdubs were done as well as a modest degree of editing, but in general what's heard on the release is what went down at the pianist's home on Lefferts Avenue in December 2014.

July 2017