58 Belvedere merges the traditional improvised jazz trio sound with hip hop and electronic music using extensive post production on Vista Cruiser.
Minneapolis jazz trio 58 Belvedere will release its sophomore record, Vista Cruiser, on February 24 and as the name suggests: fire up your engine. The horizon is wide as you journey from fragments of the smoky downtown basement jazz clubs of yore to the cosmic reaches of experimental cowboy jazz. While the trio has been playing together consistently for over a decade around the midwest, Vista Cruiser represents a significant departure from a traditionalist approach to making a jazz recording.
Listeners may be familiar with the guitarist Dean Granros who was named by Nate Chinen in the New York Times as a standout performer at the 2016 NYC Winter Jazz Fest. Chinen called Granros “a visionary oddball…in some ways he felt beamed in from another dimension.” Rounding out the trio are drummer Dave Power and bassist Pat Keen. A musical chameleon, Power has been a touring and studio drummer for over a decade having worked with The Staves, Aero Flynn, and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. A graduate of the New England Conservatory, Keen brings his jazz roots into innovative experimentation across genres, challenging folk narratives and reshaping traditional instrumentation.
The group recorded its first studio album, Rustic Libertines, in 2015 at Granros’ horse ranch in Bloomer, Wisconsin with longtime friend, engineer and musical collaborator Jaime Hansen. Their new offering is a nine-track collection of songs that was initially improvised and performed in a single afternoon by the trio, this time with engineer and producer Dex Wolfe at the helm. The recordings were revisited months later and so began a half-year journey of chopping, overdubbing and crafting Vista Cruiser.
The original concept for the album was conceived by Keen and Wolfe. The pair wanted to approach making a record with a “mentality that is extremely fluid and flexible between what the live performance was and what ultimately becomes the finished studio work,” as Wolfe puts it. Keen, Wolfe and Power have collaborated in myriad capacities over the past decade, so there was a lot of intrinsic trust that informed the process.
The album begins with “Alternator” – starting with moody freeform interplay between guitar, upright bass and drums, reminiscent of the Jim Hall trio. It then glitches out into a sustained guitar tone, and dives into a mid-tempo melodic groove more akin to recent recordings by guitarist Jeff Parker. Although the song eventually devolves into chops and loops followed by a slowed-down, degraded sample of a later track, Keen says, “this is one of the more honest, live compositional tunes.”
With what begins sounding like an otherworldly synth is in fact Granros playing his guitar through a modular synthesizer on the album’s second cut, “Vista Cruiser”. Granros creates an ethereal and spatial quality, fulfilling the image of overlooking an expansive vista. It then falls into an open sound bath of manipulated guitar and bowed upright bass loops before finding its footing again in the groove. This process of building and destructing repeats once more as an intentional dismantling of the ensemble to close out the tune.
Abrupt entangled effects, vinyl scratching and industrialized percussive elements spin the next track, “Misfire,” into a lush, chaotic introduction before the listener hears guest saxophonist Nelson Devereaux make a first statement, joined by Granros’ conversational interplay, eventually locking up into a unison melody. The band then fades into a transitional track, “Whipping Shi++ies,” a brief tension of rapid tremolo between Granros and Keen with cymbal swells by Power.
Who doesn’t get an exciting whiff of rugged individualism when passing a massive log-hauling 18-wheeler on a mountain highway? The trio seems to be doing their best musical interpretation of this in “Big Rig,” with brooding undertones akin to the Tom Waits album Mule Variations.
One of two tracks that clocks in under two minutes long, “Chrome Horizon” is an experimental musing utilizing a short loop between guitar and drums. Keen reminisces, “I love how that one came together. We asked ourselves if we could make something out of this five second thing that we made.” High harmonic bowed bass, melancholic synth and select electronic kick overdubs team together to fill out the drone-oriented and contemplative nature of the track.
“Carburetor” is a grinding, grooving and gaudy track that again features Devereaux on saxophone, doubling an initially unassuming melody with Granros. The tune gradually gets grittier as both Dean and Nelson have solo features – guitar glitching and popping while saxophone shrieks and growls. Upright bass and drums lay down a heavy groove throughout, providing the dirty bedrock for the soloists.
“Psilo Transmission” is an instrumental communication from another dimension, drenched in the static of a wrong frequency where quietly warbled guitar questions the amused bowed upright as electronic drums hitch a ride. The phonograph barely spits the transmission through.
“Tailgater,” the final cut from the album, begins with the disorientation of a heat mirage over a long hot road. A slow ominous groove pulls the listener forward through sparse, dissonant commentary from Granros, urgent phrases from Keen and pulsing bells from Power that eventually devolve.
Vista Cruiser manages to feel free, improvised and liberated from traditional expectations, while also embracing them through shapes and structures that bring the album back into abstract conversation with hip hop, the blues and electronic music. The band fluidly extracts hypnotic grooves, melodic hooks and ambient collages out of the ether. It’s a cosmic vehicle meant to carry the listener through urban jungles, dusty back roads and into the stars.