Riding the blood moon eclipse with Dan Peck: Premature Burial and The Gate

Premature Burial (photo by Peter Gannushkin)
As I finish typing up this little piece, the heavens are falling into creepy alignment: autumn has just lumbered into place; a total lunar eclipse is happening right now, and it's a blood moon, and it's a supermoon, and the eclipse is the culmination of a tetrad. Holy astronomical Moses! Some folks speculate that the end times begin in mere hours, and if they're right, perhaps we're about to part ways amidst trumpets, angels, and (hopefully) gory bouts of rapture, dear readers.

But if we should be so lucky to live, love and listen another day, may I suggest putting a couple of new Dan Peck-related recordings between your ears? In another feat of astronomical synchronicity, two of this brilliant composer/improvisor/tuba gymnast's most ominous projects are dropping new albums within a rough week of each other. If you're ready to welcome fall with great writing, sensitive improvisation and an embrace of aural heebie-jeebies, you can't do better than The Gate's new album "Chuck" on Astral Spirits and the debut of Premature Burial on New Atlantis Records.

The Gate - Chuck

The Gate started out under the more conventional jazz-act name of the Dan Peck Trio, releasing "Acid Soil" all the way back in 2009. Assuming their current moniker with a pair of brutal albums in 2012, Peck leads this powerful trio (featuring Tom Blancarte on upright bass and Brian Osborne on percussion) into lower, slower, and darker corners than most tuba players or jazz cats have ever gone. Doom and drone metal are the main points of reference for this music, and the concept works wonderfully with the double-low-end attack of Blancarte and Peck. Subsonic riffing punctuates wild rides full of extended-technique playing, and the trio can produce sounds both more caustic and congealed than one might expect to be possible with this orchestration.

The A-side of the new "Chuck" cassette on Astral Spirits finds The Gate in harsh free improv mode, somewhat an extension of their "Vomit Dreams" disc from 2012. Putting the whole doom/drone vibe aside, I think many folks into killer improv will dig this side with or without the metal-band-emulation conceit on their minds. This is simply great playing: dynamic, diverse, full frequency, and high energy. These jams fit perfectly into the Astral Spirits oeuvre, and in case you're not already on board, you should be stalking this label with a passion if you're into improvised music. Astral Spirits is the contemporary cassette label equivalent of BYG/Actuel in my book, their every curatorial choice a revelation.

On the B-side, the core trio is joined by Nate Wooley on trumpet and Tim Dahl on electric bass (as they were on their most recent LP "Stench"), and the quintet turns in a haunting performance of a through-composed piece called "The Huldrefish." Named after an eerie 19th century nautical tale that reads like a surprising antecedent to Lovecraft's Cthulu Mythos, this composition perfectly conjures a nightmare-ride into lands of unknown and unimaginable monsters. Following a calm but foreboding introductory section, full of great cymbal work and low oceanic murmurs, The Gate eventually brings you eye to missing-eye with strange, aggressive, and impossible audio attacks, finally coming back to shore with distant brass and basses moving back into the shadows. This is easily the best piece recorded so far by The Gate, a project that continues to evolve and brutalize more effectively with every album. Pick up a copy of "Chuck" from Astral Spirits here while supplies last.

Premature Burial - The Conjuring

Another haunted trio with Dan Peck on tuba, Premature Burial is a new group featuring Matt Nelson on sax and Peter Evans on piccolo trumpet. Where The Gate works to evoke massive external narratives of terror, Premature Burial explores the macabre on a more human scale and in much closer proximity. Without percussion to anchor these pieces, "The Conjuring" instead deploys massive batteries of effects. Like Matt Nelson's excellent sax+effects solo album "Lower Bottoms" from last year, there are many moments where the acoustic sources behind these sounds become very hard to determine: drones become electronic and progress without the need for breathing, sounds distort and mutate through filters, flutter-tongued passages become industrial spectres, and harmonizers turn atonal phrases into intimidating sub-ensembles.

True to the Edgar Allen Poe tale that inspired their name, Premature Burial builds their pieces around claustrophobic, frenzied peaks, their recording cleverly spread across the stereo field to give listeners the perception of being attacked from multiple directions at once. However, in their more subdued moments, the acoustic properties of the church where these recordings were made almost become a fourth member of the ensemble, persistent reverb keeping even the most delicate passages from feeling like they occupy an identifiable location in the mix. Always shifting though never far away, my favorite moments on "The Conjuring" feel like they're an invocation of the voice of this space itself, a lonely place that's seen better days, a voice grown old and unaccustomed to listeners.

Like "Chuck," if you're not into digging the "scary music" caprice behind this album, you'll still find a lot to love in "The Conjuring." Besides the intense extended technique playing and creative effects, all three members of Premature Burial have moments in these pieces where they lay down some seriously virtuosic lines. Though I haven't heard them yet, the download that accompanies each LP purchase of this record includes some additional solo cuts by each member that are likely to include some more moments of instrumental badassery. But if you want to check those out, you'll need to head over to the New Atlantis Records Bandcamp page while you still can: "The Conjuring" drops on October 2nd, and those Ende Tymes may be just around the corner...

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