Usually when I see a band name, album art, and a track listing, I get a pretty good idea of the stylistic ballpark where the whole thing is headed to. It would go without saying that when I see ‘experimental’ tossed next to jazz, there’s going to be some not-at-all-digestible stuff that will smack you dab in the face. Also, go figure, I was looking at the Witch Egg cover art like I’d never seen such a picture in my life. I was thinking to myself something along the lines of, ‘Man this looks like straight up stoner doom – is this for real, like, jazz?’ Surely enough, the music starts playing and, for all intents and purposes, it is indeed jazz.
Now of course, the entire aesthetic on the surface comes across quite heavily and clearly throughout the music. Normally, I tend to accent how an album starts and ends in order to underline what I otherwise refer to as its narrative quality. This isn’t an album that relies on such an aspect, nor would it care to unfold itself using any kind of frame which could limit it in any way. This is a record which, I feel, goes out of its way to go somewhere and take us with it. I’m not sure where ‘somewhere’ is or what it looks like, but it sounds like the contents which we are acquainted with over the course of Witch Egg.
John Dwyer is accompanied by Nick Murray, Brad Caulkins, Tom Dolas, and Greg Coates, making for a great cast on this journey. If I didn’t know any better, I’d just say that this is a jam session between some friends who have been doing this for ages. There’s a highly improvised feeling which seeps through every little crack of the record. If this is composed and rehearsed material, no one can convince me it wasn’t born in a wild jam session that lasted hours on end.
Immediately noticeable is that John Dwyer and co. have a very psychedelic approach to the tunes on the album. This isn’t just regular trippy, which has a very colorful mode of expression with a multilayered delivery, it’s an eerie and murky area with vague contours and even vaguer borders. It also has a dreamlike vibe to it, which makes it appear somewhat surreal or otherworldly. Each song melts into the next without any warning or cue. There’s no telling where in the album you are at any given moment. It’s like it completely warps your temporal orientation – due in no small part to changes in speed.
“Baphomet”, the fifth track, showcases, I think, the essence of the album in a nutshell quite aptly. It’s quite a slow burner, which starts out with just one idle layer, and it progressively adds more layers until it becomes a texture more than anything else. The tunes make use of droned-out soundscapes, odd phrasings, and hypnotic grooves for the most part, although there are plenty of standout moments as well. I would, however, be hard pressed to show off any particular segment, mostly because I think there’s a certain joy in discovering each bit as you travel along the way.
I also found it refreshing that there’s a heavy emphasis on mood and atmosphere, rather than on any other aspect which may define the hallmark of a record. Usually in modern jazz (at least in my experience), it all seems to revolve around certain compositional cues and/or general structure, rather than textures and such things. There are, however, enough of the other things to maintain a certain balance. Granted, everything is enhanced by a very warm and dim-lit recording with a mix to match it. There’s plenty of clarity when needed and just as little when it isn’t.
Witch Egg is definitely not an album for just anyone or everyone. It’s a very particular journey, with a very clear setting in mind. I feel the music reflects the performers very well: it knows what it wants down to the most minute detail and goes for it without any kind of hesitation or second thoughts. It’s also not an immediately revealing listen either. I found myself seeing new things and taking on different perspectives on my 7th or 8th time around the record. If I haven’t lost you by now, definitely go dunk yourself into this.