One of my good friends told me about the fusion jazz act T.R.A.M. a few months back, and I was, frankly, pretty intimidated by the prospect of listening to jazz. It is just not my favorite genre, which may be why I have never explored it at greater depth. Hearing ‘Lingua Franca’ (which is a totally suitable name) has made me wonder what else, in the fusion jazz world, I may have been missing. Maybe this is my ‘gateway drug’ into the harder stuff!
T.R.A.M. is a supergroup of sorts, with members of Animals as Leaders, a Mars Voltan, and a Suicidal (Tendencies that is) drummer comprising the band. I already was fairly familiar with Animals as Leaders, and their particular brand of progressive metal is already very jazz-like in some respects. For T.R.A.M., it’s the woodwinds, courtesy of Adrian Terrazas (The Mars Volta), that help the music into the realm of true jazz.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit to not only not being well-versed in jazz, but also not a fan of saxophones and clarinets (which feature prominently on ‘Lingua Franca’). I have come to the conclusion that it is not that I don’t like these instruments, it’s that I have not heard them played in a way that touched me. Played as they are here, with metal riffing and superb drumming, I find sax, clarinet, and even what sounds like a flute (Ron Burgundy?) pretty interesting and appealing.
Starting off, ‘Seven Ways Til Sunday’ eases you in, staying melodic and not too crazy with the time changes, that is until the sax starts up. In the background, always keeping me safe and comfortable, is bass and guitar, chunking away and holding the rhythm while the drums go off into the weeds with the woodwind. A little past halfway, some sort of cheesy, jacuzzi jazz vocals sort of detract, but they don’t totally suck. For an opener, this is a good choice.
Following on, ‘Consider Yourself Judged’ is a bit more jagged and asymmetric with the starts and stops, but there is a cool synergy with the guitar and the clarinet (or sax, I am not sure), with a sort of call and response going on between them. Again, the drums are more of a focus than the steadying presence of the bass. For as syncopated and wild as this one is at times, it flows surprisingly well.
Track 3, entitled ‘Endeavor’, starts off pastoral and pretty, picks up the pace a bit, and really showcases the aforementioned harmony of the guitar and woodwind, this time for sure a clarinet. The guitar is pretty cool here, with shreddy finger bits aplenty. At 6.5 minutes, this is one of the longer songs on the album, and after my first time listening, I was not sure what to think. It’s definitely cool, intricate and requires some brain cycles to process.
‘HAAS Kicker’ is the next, and longest track, and takes a full two minutes of Radiohead-ish ether-noise to get going, and a full minute after that to sort of get to meat of the song. The easiest song to follow so far, it’s not nearly as twisted and interesting as the others. This is also the song that sounds, to my untrained ear, the most like traditional fusion. The last tracks, ‘Hollywood Swinging’ and ‘Inverted Ballad’, respectively, offer more of the same quality music, played by some extremely talented musicians.
I mentioned that the album name ‘Lingua Franca’ was especially apropo here–If you don’t know the term, it refers to a language that bridges the gap between other languages, so that people can communicate better. In this case, as jazz fusion always has done, bridge the span between metal and jazz, presenting it in an accessible and even pleasurable manner. I mean, really, how different are prog metal bands like Animals as Leaders, Intronaut, and Between The Buried And Me from trad-jazz players? The genes are so similar, it seems like a pretty natural fit. For me, I do feel like I have some learning to do!