Trance Lucid is a suitably enigmatic name for a band that plays music that is defiantly their own. Anyone expecting grandiose metal with gothic imagery, as suggested on the album cover, will be in for a surprise. A three piece from Oakland, California, featuring Dave Halverson on guitar, Terry Lee on percussion and Richard Bugbee on keyboards, “Palace of Ether” is their fifth release, and can be summed up as a carefully crafted collection of memorable, and sharply intelligent, selections of raw funk underpinning complex arrangements, which may be categorised as “jazz funk” or “jazz prog” if such a label were necessary.
Opening with “TM” which scythes a gorgeously angular riff across rock solid beats with attitude and careful consideration, “Palace of Ether” progresses with music that deviates in depth and complexity. “Spyglass” utilises a similar “funk” template but adds guitar soloing of fire and intensity. “Illumination” and “Pocket” bring to mind the work of guitarists such as John McLaughlin or, to some extent, Jeff Beck, albeit with a tension and an abrasiveness that gives these pieces their distinctiveness. Anyone concerned with the possibility that “Palace of Ether” may feature guitar soloing that never fully reaches a satisfactory conclusion, will be happy to know that each piece on this release is no more five or six minutes long. Conversely, anyone concerned with the possibility that these pieces may not be self indulgent enough will be pleased to know that within that tight framework there is economy of composition to allow liberty of expression.
Elsewhere, the album has been criticised for allowing the instruments to disappear before they have fully established themselves in the music, which may or may not be the charm of “Palace of Ether”. Each piece is almost a vignette in sound evoking a mood or situation individual to the listener. Listening to a piece like “The Crossing” illustrates this perfectly, there is space within the piece, almost stark in its’ instrumentation, but the space is used efficiently. There may be a rough edge to the production, but there is also fragility as evidenced on a piece such as “Many Rooms”. Occasionally the essence moves away from what could be described as “jazz rock” to a more straight ahead blues influence. Indeed, it seems as the album progresses, so the myriad influences seem to slide carefully in to place.
It could be argued that “Palace of Ether”, like many album releases, has a variety of characteristics depending on the context in which it is experienced. From a “post-rock” perspective, the music is sparse and does not display a characteristic panorama of sound that that genre would expect. From a jazz perspective however, the tunes are tight, economical and to the point, at the same time allowing for virtuoso performance. A composition such as “Painted Dancer” however, breaks the mould on both accounts in its’ eccentricity, and at times these eccentric breaks are reminiscent of the Robert Fripp and Andy Summers solo albums, fragments of sound and composition that are almost a Rorschach test to the listener to make what they will of the sounds presented. For anyone willing to take such a test, Trance Lucid and “Palace of Ether” is a delight.