Travis Laplante - Heart Protector

Travis Laplante - Heart Protector

Another solo tenor saxophone record review so quickly after Bertrand Denzler's "Tenor"...hey, why are you backing away from me?

Seriously, though, folks, Travis Laplante's first solo release, "Heart Protector," was just released a month ago, but it's definitely among my favorite albums of 2011, and I can easily see it hanging with the small pile of records I find myself returning to repeatedly over time. Laplante is a great player, but this music isn't about technique or combining genres or contributing to the advancement of jazz or experimental music in some clever way--this is soul and spirit racing into one another.

I've been trying to write about this record for the last two weeks, but I find myself settling into a mostly wordless meditative state within the first few phrases of the opening piece, which is also the title track. It's a multiphonics-based composition played with a warm, inviting tone, gentle articulations into each chord, and the intimacy of Laponte's breathing faithfully captured in the anticipations before each note.  It really does feel like a "heart protector." Subsequent tracks aren't as calm as the opening number, but all of them seem determined to place their listeners deep within sacred spaces.

The story of the making of this record found on Laplante's BandCamp page is a starting point for understanding the transcendent qualities of this music: ill with severe vertigo, he ultimately found his way to an acupuncturist who started him on a path toward both his own health and incorporating healing practices into his music. Since then, he has been practicing Quigong, meditating, and generally letting his energy flow as freely and widely as possible. Based on "Heart Protector" and the recent recorded efforts of his band Little Women*, his approach is working wonderfully.

"Five Points," the second composition, focuses on various trilling, tremolando, and pedal point procedures, each emphasizing a vibratory center. In a few passages that avoid the trilling action, rhythmic shifts between alternate fingerings create some phasing oscillations instead. For most of the last four sections of the album, the music deftly outlines the continuum of the electromagnetic spectrum: vibration, oscillation, frequency, pure energy.

"The Great Mother" opens side B with plaintive trumpet-like tones before hypnotizing its listeners with multiphonic chord-drones. These aren't so melodically uplifting as those of the title track, but they're very trance-inducing. The overtones shift around in ghostly fashion as the fundamental pitches move in mostly chromatic motion. In terms of vibrational energy, the relatively short physical distances between half-steps embody much more emotional potential between one another than larger leaps of fourths and fifths: the larger intervals relate to one another through simple ratios and live together most of the time as harmonic overtone companions, while half-step movements vibrate in monumental and dramatic opposition.

Repeated notes in the first half of "She Heals as She Harms" play a similar oscillatory role as the trills in "Five Points." This is probably the technical centerpiece of the album, full of dexterous runs whose flow is informed in a pointillistic fashion by the quickly-tongued pitch reiterations. Its last half is a somewhat free-form emotional release of high pitches, squeals, and trills, ending on more half-step pushing and pulling. The final composition, "The Tear Dam," is the most traditionally-played piece on the album, and as its title suggests, it seems to hold back from the instinctual emotional release so natural to the rest of the record. It builds in a dynamic swell on its primary five-note motif toward the end, hinting at another emotional flood--but this time, the Tear Dam holds.

I really love the recording quality of this album, too. At times the music is harsh, and the sound quality picks up a slight amount of high-end distortion, but that's what it sounds like standing right in front of someone playing like this. These hair-raising moments are captured while also picking up Laponte's breathing, and you can really hear the sound of the room, which I'm envisioning as a medium-sized space in an attic or garage, mostly devoid of objects. To my ears, it sounds like the kind of place where musicians tell their deepest secrets to themselves and their closest friends, and music so full of introspection and healing as this often sounds its best in these sacred spots, which themselves come alive over time with the repeated emotional and vibrational outpouring of their occupants.

Highly, highly recommended.

*Speaking of Little Women--there was a short post about their most recent album, "Throat," on KiC around a year ago. It referred to the band as "in the vein of Naked City," and as a fellow who has listened to Naked City and Little Women albums well beyond recommended daily allowances, I would make a significant distinction between Zorn's "cut-up" projects and the newer NYC bands of the 00s and 10s like Little Women and Zs. Zorn was essentially a montage composer for Naked City and the 80s "file card compositions," interested in juxtaposing styles toward the creation of cinematically evocative (or sometimes simply amusing) aural spaces. I've always gotten a much more direct emotional punch from the music of Little Women. Influences and genres may peek through, but the music operates at a much higher temperature where genre distinctions are mostly converted into pure energy. I love both approaches, but they're very different to my ears. Little Women's 2010 release "Teeth," by the way, has already enjoyed a short tenure among my shortlist of favorite records. It can be a harsh record when you first approach it, but deep within it becomes pure, sustained euphoria. If you haven't heard it, I would recommend it as a perfect companion to "Heart Protector."

--First published at Killed in Cars

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