Friday 16 June 2023

Edges - The End of the F***ing World (2023)

Country: Belgium
Style: Jazz Fusion
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 31 Mar 2023
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Edges may be a debuting band, but they're a project of a Belgian guitarist, Guillaume Vierset, who has a few solo albums out, along with others with Harvest Group and LG Jazz Collective, plus guest appearances for a variety of other Belgian jazz artists. As that might suggest, this is jazz, but it's a fascinating fusion album because Vierset started playing country guitar with his father, then went to school to study classical guitar and jazz, and diversified from there. He's brought folk music into jazz and a number of songs here play with electronica, rock and even punk.

The vast majority of the album is instrumental, the only vocal piece being the closing title track, a melodious song that's the longest on offer at five minutes but also the most underwhelming, with a lounge music base and almost a subdued Iggy Pop style vocal. It's a far cry from the opener, First Round, which is probably my favourite piece here, a jaunty jazz fusion piece with some fascinating rhythms. It gets a little experimental in its second half but nowhere near to the degree that other pieces will soon relish in. It's a very good entry point to the album.

Of course, if you don't have a background in jazz fusion and you dig this opener, you may be rather confused by Better Call Pam, perhaps my other favourite track here. It starts out as electronica, a pulsing synth that sounds like it's a machine trying but not quite managing to emulate the speech of a human being. There's plenty of glitch early on, but it settles into a comfortable groove, full of movement, as if the piece is walking down the road, all chill and laid back. As it builds, it gets more and more fascinating because the process of walking appears to become more difficult, the stride veering away from what's expected and muscles starting to seize and spasm. Somehow it manages to make it to its destination without tripping over its feet, but it's a constant challenge.

While we wouldn't know this without an explanation, apparently there's a story running through a majority of this album. The first two tracks feature a man declaring the end of the fucking world, a memorable title even with censoring asterisks, because he finds himself torn between a world that is rational and structured and sane and another world "where everything is blown apart". The rest of the album is therefore a struggle between order and chaos, some pieces more structured, but a few far from it. Just as this man thinks he's figured it out on Back, it's time for a Second Round.

And, even though First Round and Better Call Pam are my favourite pieces, I'd give Second Round a place alongside them as a highlight. It starts out delicate and introspective, but gradually finds its way into chaos, the dynamic shift between beginning and end surely the most pronounced that the album gets. In its way, it's the album in microcosm but the album doesn't follow such a direct shift. It wends and weaves and shifts from the world of order to the world of chaos and back again with a playful edge.

After First Round, the most approachable song may be AC Blues, which is tender and fascinating, a lounge music piece to presage the closer but one that doesn't need a voice and whose instruments are constantly interesting. The lounge feel threatens to soothe us into slumber, but nothing being played is willing to let us, so our attention never wavers and we stay very awake and listen actively. I'm reminded here of some of what I've heard from Bill Frisell with some Mark Ribot in there for a bonus.

I don't know any of the musicians, but Vierset played all the guitars and wrote the music, leaving a trio of others behind him. Dorian Dumont may be the most prominent otherwise, as the keyboard player and pianist. Anders Christensen contributes bass and Jim Black the drums, which, in keeping with the overarching concept, often shift from rock structure to free jazz chaos. They cover a lot of ground here, all the way from the punky vibe of I Love Triads to the minimalist, near ambient intro to the title track, simply called Intro, to name just two tracks next to each other on the album.

I may know a lot more about every other genre I've covered this week than I do jazz fusion, but this is a fascinating album that's perked up my day.

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