Badge Époque Ensemble - Clouds of Joy Music Album Reviews

Badge Époque Ensemble - Clouds of Joy Music Album Reviews
Enthusiastic, meticulous, and decidedly analog, Clouds of Joy is AM radio music for a late-’70s moment that may only exist in bandleader Max Turnbull’s imagination.

Since his days as Slim Twig, Max Turnbull has demonstrated a compositional freedom that splits the differences between wildly different roles—producer, songwriter, rocker, abstract instrumentalist, glitchy troubadour. Both laid-back and restless, Turnbull reminds us that music can keep us on our toes while relaxing our minds. His current group, the loosely defined, easy-come, easy-go collective Badge Époque Ensemble, is always a screeching solo away from spiritual jazz. But their songs, however lush and layered, never worry over pain long enough to emit a Pharoah Sanders-esque wail, or a devotional worthy of Alice Coltrane; palatable, ceaselessly breezy, the ensemble’s sound is more oriented toward self-care.

Such an anesthetic alchemy feels very now, to a sometimes tired degree. The low-key sprawl of their 2021 album Scroll, recorded under the name Badge Epoch, evoked serene genre-straddler Sam Gendel, yet their new album Clouds of Joy stands out by reaching for the past. Gone is Scroll’s smash-cut editing, as though Turnbull were toggling through 75 open tabs in his browser. Enthusiastic, meticulous, and decidedly analog, Clouds of Joy is AM radio music for a late-’70s moment that may only exist in his imagination: These nine tracks are fun, full of pacifying flutes and disco congas, but also progressive in the purest sense of the word. Despite the gooey new-age sloganeering of Turnbull’s lyrics, the ensemble’s shifting, consonant arrangements push past his mischievous comfort zone and into profound terrain.

The difference is largely an increasing skill at writing for voice. Staggering opener “Conspiring With Nature” floats along on four-part harmonies sung by Dorothea Paas, Alex Samaras, Robin Dann, and Alanna Stuart, forecasting the song’s surprisingly sewn-together parts—a veritable Frankenstein, if the monster had been built with elegance and invisible stitches. The quartet returns on “Let Breath Be the Sum,” which hinges on a lyric as instructive as a good yoga class. “Let breath be the sum/Of consciousness,” they practically chant, while singers drop out of the main melody and slip in at a distant, lower register. Their singing not only teaches us how to breathe—it reminds us of the parts that form the titular sum.

On the page, Badge Époque Ensemble’s spirituality can seem trite. “The world is a bowl/Pouring light unto bowls/Light flows from bowl to bowl,” the four vocalists sing on “Joy Flows.” But their reverberant harmonies inhale these meanings and expel them as something more pulmonary than literal. We notice that “sum” extends into an evocative, meditative hum, the rounded, full tones of the a capella track “The Greatest Joy.” The one solo vocal feature is on “Zodiac,” when Toronto ballroom stalwart James Baley plays off the funk backbeat of Jay Anderson’s drums, Gio Rosati’s bass, and Chris Bezant’s wah-wah guitar. A number of songs were written collectively, and after sitting out Scroll, Bezant and saxophonist Karen Ng make a welcome return. Turnbull is a font of ideas, yet Badge Époque’s crystallization into a true ensemble elevates Clouds of Joy into their most robust, consistent collection yet.

Relinquishing his piano, the bandleader reimagines his own role as that of musical director and sonic mastermind, like Walter Becker’s in latter-day Steely Dan. The songs themselves, though, suggest lesser-known ’70s-originating acts Peter Gordon & Love of Life Orchestra and “Blue” Gene Tyranny, both of whom eschewed compositional convention, merging California sunniness with New York archness. While Badge Époque Ensemble hail from Toronto—a plenty arch, not exactly light-drenched city—Clouds of Joy is beatific, with a puckish quality that bleeds through in brief snatches. Slowed a few dozen BPMs, the title track’s catchy flute hook could soundtrack a long hold on an 800 number. The whole album works so well not because it draws with occasional cheek from the late 20th century—a lot of today’s artists use the past with more obvious internet-age irony—but because it sounds so thoroughly composed. Exhaustively arranged and too tightly wound to permit extended stretches of improvisation, Clouds of Joy is a spiral of great instrumental performances you might miss on a first or even fifth listen. It advertises its traditional aspects, and also hides them in our assumption that such happy, pre-punk-sounding music must in some way be making fun of itself.

A faulty assumption, no doubt, and surely a lack of self-awareness has its benefits. On Clouds of Joy, the hooks shimmer and gleam, landing in a dizzying, relentless succession. The compositions spread out with a comfortable, unhurried sense of purpose. For the first time, Badge Époque Ensemble don’t sound like they’re trying to reclaim Muzak or any other maligned genre of the past—except just a tiny bit. The present itself must be good enough, Turnbull tells us, and his band plays with confidence in the fact that these sounds emerge from the brilliance of their collective voice.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Badge Époque Ensemble - Clouds of Joy Music Album Reviews Badge Époque Ensemble - Clouds of Joy Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Saturday, September 17, 2022 Rating: 5

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