Today marks the release of Phase 2 of Brian Adler’s Helium Project. Both Phase 1 and Phase 2 can now be purchased digitally here. Adler has been crafting Helium since 2009. His mission was to expand the recording studio around the globe. Alder’s music blurs the lines between “jazz” and “world” music and Helium is a delightfully uplifting representation of his musical philosophy.
Despite his background in American jazz, Alder has open ears and Argentinian roots. “The spread and cross-pollination of musical languages and culture is happening all over the place”, he commented. “When I walk down the street in Queens where I live, I hear hip-hop, Bollywood music, jazz, Turkish music, and Brazilian music within a few blocks”. Before beginning Helium, he formed the Prana Trio in Boston and eventually toured in the United States and Germany. The trio specialized in exploring the ancient spiritual texts of Rumi, Hafiz, Lao Tzu, Kabir, Issa and others. They produced three albums: The Singing Image of Fire (2009), Pranam (2006) and After Dark (2004). Frank Calrberg, one of Adlers professors at the New England Conservatory, is an acclaimed composer in the art of fusing interpreted texts with unique, challenging and often twisted jazz compositions. Adler cites Carlberg as a mentor for the trio as they gathered texts. Adler’s application of the female voice in Phase 1 in addition to his lyrical method of drumming can all be heard throughout the entire Helium project. “The [human] voice is very important to me”, Adler added, “many people can relate to it can add many dimensions to the music. Even if there is no vocalist, I often still consider what one might do in terms of phrasing. And this can transfer to my drumming or to composing”.
“Lazy River” features lyrics taken from the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca, translated by Jerome Rothenberg. The piece was composed by Adler and Evan McCulloch. Adler stated, “when the poem is read, there is a natural rhythm and breaths are implied. We looked for these moments to use space in “Lazy River” both to bring out the haunting quality of the poem and to see how each musician would fill it in or leave it empty”. The composition was written first in NY but began the tracking process in Germany with musicians Peter Ehwald (tenor sax) and Benedikt Jahnel (piano). Adler then tracked drums, followed by vocalist Kate McGarry and cellist Dave Eggar. “Lazy River” is synonymous with its subject. It drifts and dips, moving in and out of exceptional intensity. Without the presence of bass, Jahnel and Eggar exchange roles filling out the low end. The musicians have fused their voices over the internet, without eye contact or gestures, and its core, “Lazy River” as a composition effortlessly carries them along.
“Andei” might be the “hit” from the Helium bundle. “Andei” or “I walked” is the only lyric repeated in the melody, playfully sung by South African singer Nicky Schrire. The tune was written by Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal but has been interpreted by Adler and Australian bassist Mark Lau. Their interpretation includes thick rhythmic foundation using sampled tracks of bass, drum set, tablas, percussion, and electronics then layered on the work, as well as New York guitarist Sean Moran and alto saxophonist Nick Kadajski. “We took this song and tried to find our own way with it,” Adler commented, “the rhythm is sort of like a brazilian baião and is loosely inspired by what Airto Moriera played. But similar rhythms are found throughout the world, so we drew from them as well opening things up with many layers of percussion”. The blend between electronic and acoustic percussion is one of the elements that give “Andei” its “pop” flare and the interplay between Kadajski’s chromatic lines and the more passive flare of Schrire’s vocals mesh beautifully. “Andei”, much like the other pieces in the Helium set, succeeds as threading “world” rhythms with modern harmonic idioms.
“Esa Pantera Bajo La Luna” draws inspiration from poet Jorge Luis Borges and the 6/8 folkloric rhythms the chacarera. It features Adler on drums, Rodrigo Dominguez (tenor sax), Juan Pablo Arredondo (guitar), and Jerónimo Carmona (bass). This piece, unlike those in Phase 1, was tracked live in a studio in Buenos Aires. It especially interesting during the moment when Adler and Arredondo drop out and the clapping of the chacarera enters. This frees up Dominguez harmonically another juxtaposition of folkloric rhythm and modern jazz harmony. Arredono’s solo also pushes into modern territory with extensive unpredictable interplay with Adler. Using distortion as an overall gritty texture, his lines move from delicate to harsh dissonances amidst on top of ride cymbal splashes as the tune ends, trailing off from the chaos leaving the listener both curious and content.
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