Reviews

Review: Fourth Dimension by Brian Shankar Adler – mathematically devised and mystically animated

On Fourth Dimension, his seventh record as a leader, Brooklyn-based composer and percussionist Brian Shankar Adler looks back to his earliest experiences with music to “get a truth out” and explore the innermost layers of his creative identity.

Released on the always-fascinating Chant label, the introspective album made up of “textless mantras, disintegrating drones, mind-bending polyrhythms, and encrypted messages” traverses a musical path that took the composer from the spiritual setting of an ashram to the always-erratic New York jazz scene.

Fronting a quintet made up of Matt Moran on vibraphone, Jonathan Goldberger on electric guitar, Santiago Leibson on piano and keyboards and Rob Jost on bass, the percussionist presents eleven tracks based on “little structures” that create a platform for exploration through permutation.

Admittedly a more through-composed work that veers towards “New Music”, Fourth Dimension uses constantly-shifting fragments taken apart from a variety of influences and reassembled into a cohesive whole that feels, at the same time, mathematically devised and metaphysically animated. 

The album begins with “Introduction Drone”, wherein Leibson’s hypnotic, trance-inducing piano creates a sort of primordial pattern from which the rest of the instruments burst into existence looking to compound into incipient, evanescent structures. This sonic synthesis forms a consistent whole starting with “Mantra”, a dark, haunting blues-raga that sets the tone for the rest of the record.

“Rudram” starts like a call to prayer, progressing from a splendid intro, to the thematic core epitomized by the antithesis of Leibson’s synaptic piano and Jost’s pulsating bass, culminating in moments of ecstatic freedom. Throughout the entire album, the often antagonistic pairing of piano/bass, guitar/vibraphone or piano/vibraphone seems to mimic the binary state of an introspective mind, suggesting that the process of self-examination is rooted in self-confrontation. Adler’s own expert percussion, involving everything from drum set to tabla and what he calls “metal sculptures”, often feels hidden in plain sight, as if intended to be fully perceived only through focused attention.

Different states of mind are evoked through influences from all across the spectrum, from the noise-music drone and industrial-sounding rhythm of “Pulses” and “Rise and Fall” to the disentangling-lullaby structure of “Windy Path”, the psychedelic nuances of “Nuearth” or the computer-generated feel of “Watertown” and “Pendulum”. In “Gowanus”, all of these elements appear to be competing for the same available space, bringing to mind a sort of sonic superposition. This steady hybridization of traditional genre aesthetics results in a work with a non-linear narrative but an extremely coherent thematic concept.

Seemingly denying the listener (and perhaps the artists) a desired catharsis, the album closes with “Alternative Facts”,  an unrestrained, near-chaotic jam, enforcing the idea that the true search for balance is a challenging, ceaseless process.

Through its uncompromising complexity, Fourth Dimension is the kind of album whose true depth could be lost on a less-than-mindful audience. For the dedicated listener, the reward is an outstanding exploration of sound as a medium for unaltered, unbiased self-examination.  

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