Phases is an ambient chamber music album by the Denver based group Mountain Coast which bridges improvised music with electronic production. Mountain Coast is the musical evolution of a 15 year partnership between Dave Devine (Brian Blade Fellowship, Ron Miles) and Michael Bailey. The process of improvisation, sonic manipulation, resampling and more improvisation has been refined during this time, yet, is in a state of constant development. Their debut recording, Watch Peak, was released in 2021. Phases features trumpeter Kenny Warren, also a Denver native but now based in Brooklyn, and draws on the 20 years of collective playing with Bailey and Devine.
Phases is a true pandemic record, recorded remotely, but in an organic way. Warren’s trumpet and Devine’s guitar tracks were processed with effects, samplers and modular synths by Bailey, in turn creating new layers to improvise over, offering fresh avenues to build transcendent soundscapes of texture and timbre that are at times warm and pastoral, other times eerie and disorienting. Minimalist phase loops and field recordings further add to the noir-like shadows and reflections of this spacious and sublime music, reminiscent of Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Steve Reich.
The album opens with “4Jeffe” which features trumpet and lap steel duetting over a layer of sampled guitars. The sub-bass is time-stretched and pitch shifted trumpet. The title is a nod to the group’s friend, collaborator and photographer, Jeff Eliassen. “Common Dolphin” is built around a field recording Warren made on a boat tour viewing dolphins in San Francisco. The bass tone and pedal note is created by the droning of the boat’s motor. “We tuned our instruments to this pitch,” says Devine. Bailey’s samplers and loops are prominent throughout, with guitar chords moving under Harmon muted trumpet lines.
“Phase I” was actually born out of “Phase II” after Warren sent the latter to Devine and Bailey who built this track on top of it. Warren didn’t care for it initially, so they tried to split them into two pieces based on the same motif. Devine then improvised some harmonic shifts in the guitar after which Warren added a trumpet solo which was further processed with external effects. His solo breaks down to foreshadow the rhythmic motif of “Phase II”, before a final flourish of guitar and trumpet return to the quietude of the nighttime sample of Denver. “Phase II” features phase shifting in the style of minimalist composer Steve Reich. Bailey processed the trumpet to add the fifth harmony, filtering and delay textures.
“Flor De Miedo” was originally a brief piano improvisation sent by Warren, which Devine and Bailey then time stretched to make slower and improvised over that. The playing morphs into a fully wet reverb, which is interrupted by the original piece. On “Beads,” the sounds are sampled and resampled trumpet and guitar, from intro through outro. The middle section features a baritone guitar counterpoint to these processed textures, with a rhythmic trumpet motif flanking the wandering guitar line. The title is a reference to the modular synth module Beads by Mutable Instruments.
The album closes with “November 23rd” which uses tape style loops made in the eurorack format by Bailey. The source material is once again Warren’s trumpet and Devine’s guitar, this time in the style of William Basinski. The date was when the track was created and served as final title as well.
Hailed as “Denver’s Guitar Guru” by Westword Magazine, Dave Devine is known throughout the Denver jazz and rock scene for his virtuosity and his versatility as an artist. His sound is one of dense melodic layers, ambient washes, and lush sonic landscapes. He is a member of Invisible Bird with trumpeter Shane Endsley of Kneebody and drummer Scott Amendola of Nels Cline Singers. Devine has recorded and/or performed with Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band (Body and Shadow, Blue Note), Ron Miles, Matt Wilson and Ben Goldberg among others.
Michael Bailey holds a BFA from The New School in saxophone but then turned his attention to modular synthesis and music production culminating in projects with Christopher Hoffman’s MULTIFARIAM and Color Meditation. He is also a member of the collective Set Of Lives. Devine states, “Michael has the fastest ears I’ve encountered. He knows instantly if the sound is right, if the part is working, if the piece is completed or not. His instincts are strong and his sound world is unique and uncompromising.”
Kenny Warren grew up in Denver where he was inspired at a young age by local trumpet great Ron Miles. In 2002 he moved to New York to study jazz at SUNY Purchase and quickly became an active member of the improvised music scene. Devine says, “His sound is first and foremost…instantly recognizable. Denver has a long and storied trumpet heritage: Ron Miles, Greg Gisbert, Al Hood. Kenny is the amalgamation of his mentors and yet distinct in his approach.” Warren has performed with luminaries like Tony Malaby, Chris Speed and Brad Shepik and is a member of the Slavic Soul Party.
Phases is the distillation of a process 15 years in the making. It involves time intensive sound processing in real time, each layer is treated individually for the length of the performance, no plug-ins or preset effects. Each performance is a single take for the duration of that piece or section of the piece. There are no click tracks or grids to lock the performances into. Due to the lockdown during the Covid pandemic, each track was built slowly by adding a layer and sharing that new track via email and adding a new later to it. Akin to painters mailing each other the same canvas only to find their previous layer added to, erased or painted over entirely. This level of trust has been built during many years of a shared musical experience over a range of performance and recording opportunities, all retaining a distinctly Western feel.