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Heroes of Make Believe by Bryan and the Aardvarks

From the cartoonish cover of the CD and the name of the band, one might expect some sort of rock/jazz imitation of the Bad Plus, but that would be an error. There are elements of rock, but also of classical and folk music. This quartet's debut album consists of lush, cinematic, contemporary jazz that is difficult to categorize, but easy enough to swallow. No horns, no saxes, no burners, and no rough edges, but definitely not smooth, some might consider this chamber jazz except for the synthesizer, movie music except there's no film, or even New Age music except for the jazz sensibilities.

Written largely by bassist Bryan Copeland, the album is structured as a series of thematically interconnected pieces concerning time, weather, and dreams. Eight longer compositions run seven to ten minutes each, with four interspersed improvisations of about one to four minutes. That I cannot tell which are composed and which are improvs speaks either to the quality of the musicians' improvisational abilities, or just my ears. While the bass player wrote these, the playing is largely dominated by the combination of Chris Dingman's vibes and Fabian Almazan's piano, which alternately take the melody, switch in midstream, and provide a fascinating interplay between the instruments. Both are truly excellent musicians. Almazan's classical training shows through, and Dingman's vibes are a shimmering wonder, reminding me of Stefon Harris.

Copeland and Nero occasionally solo or provide intros and outros, but are usually content to provide the forward motion. For example, in "Marmalade Sky," Copeland introduces the tune with solo bass, then the others tentatively come in before Dingman takes control on vibes, with Almazan pushing back regularly. Nero comes in and provides some heavier drumming, leading to some equal give and take among all the players. "Soft Starry Night" is more ballad-like (I was waiting for a singer to start), with Almazon eventually taking the reins, then trading back and forth with Dingman for the remainder. Occasionally Almazan adds some different effects with the Fender Rhodes or the synthesizer, creating an ethereal quality that I find quite effective.

So all this music is lush and cinematic and pretty, but does it have enough depth to bear repeated listenings? Yes, this is fine music beautifully played, with a complexity that will hold the listener who is open to a style that has few hard places and a lot of atmosphere.

 

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Bryan and the Aardvarks
  • CD Title: Heroes of Make Believe
  • Genre: Contemporary Jazz / Modern
  • Year Released: 2011
  • Record Label: Self-Produced
  • Tracks: These Little Hours, Where the Wind Blows, Sunshine through the Clouds, When Night Falls, Marmalade Sky, Soft Starry Night, Mysteria, Still I Dream, Insomnia, Today Means Everything, Just Before Dawn, I’d be Lost
  • Musicians: Bryan Copeland (bass, composer), Chris Dingman (vibraphone), Fabian Almazan (piano, Fender Rhodes, synthesizer), Joe Nero (drums)
  • Rating: Three Stars
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