N TO THE POWER’s debut album AUTOGENESIS, recorded over three years in Harlem, is released today. With a wide range of musical inspiration (the Bayaka pygmies, Erik Satie, The Meters, Steve Reich, Fela Kuti), the 10-piece band creates intricate instrumental combinations of simple motifs, hypnotic interlocked rhythms and melodies which sound like the aural equivalent of Escher’s optical illusions. Sometimes upbeat and energetic (Supertonic, The God Particle), sometimes slow-motion and spacious (their 12-minute cover of Bill Evans’ “Peace Piece”), all of the music is played by hand on real instruments and then woven into complex structures using modern studio techniques.
AUTOGENESIS is available on vinyl, streaming, and download. The vinyl album is a limited edition of 207. For all available services and formats see the SMARTLINKS PAGE.
AUTOGENESIS TRACK BY TRACK:
Although the mesmerizing repetition of vibraphone and clarinet recalls Steve Reich, in fact the original spark for this piece was an onomatopoeia for a common Manding djembe part: “iribangi” - here played on a guitar rather than a djembe. Co-composer Bruno Coon combined the “iribangi” with a 3-against-4 mnemonic “pass the goddam butter,” played by Blake Leyh on a hi-hat. Supertonic uses the band’s technique of combining guest improvisers over strictly notated parts to create a lush rhythmic puzzle that flows easily but is still constantly shifting and rhythmically complex.
THE GOD PARTICLE
Starting with an explicitly Afrobeat hook (although played on a cello instead of a guitar), "The God Particle" is an energetic powerhouse, and the most rhythmically straightforward track on the album. Writer Mark Dery describes it as “an outtake from Remain in Light by Talking Heads, with nods to the hocketed vocal melodies of the pygmies and the second line strut of New Orleans brass bands." The album version has a short spacey section at the end with slow echoes and bowed vibraphone added to the washes of trombone, and there is an extended mix which continues the dream-like ambient material for several additional minutes.
After hearing a field recording of Moroccan Gnawa trance music, Jarvis & Leyh channeled that energy and spirit in an extended improv session using a Turkish bağlama, electric cello, electric guitar, and bass synthesizer. These tracks were edited and overdubbed with bass clarinet, horns, vibes, and additional percussion. Although the inspiration is decidedly organic and human, the finished piece has more in common with contemporary electronic dance music than any other N to The Power track, and the final minute of the piece collapses into electronic bleeps and feedback. There is a 13-minute remix bonus-track version of this which further explores both the dub and EDM aspects of the tune.
TO THE JACKPOT
The only track without bass clarinet, because Tony Jarvis is playing Saxophone through a delay-filter. The title (applied in 2017 before current events made the concept commonplace) references William Gibson’s idea of a slow-moving planetary cataclysm. Combining classical cello with electronic-sounding beats, pastoral melodies with shards of feedback and delay, the music could well serve as a soundtrack to a coming apocalypse, but might also suggest a roadmap to avoid inevitable demise by combining past and future. “To...” thus invokes both a journey toward, and a defiant salute at, “The Jackpot.”
If “To The Jackpot” is music with which to approach the end of the world, “Peace Piece” might be the music that happens after the end. The Autogenesis version of this piece features Yves Dharamraj’s extended cello playing, but N to The Power have many versions of this work - it is something of a touchstone piece for the band. The harmonic material and structure (written by jazz pianist Bill Evans in 1958) is so simple as to be almost trivial, but it is tremendously resilient and forgiving as a bed over which to improvise. Jarvis and Leyh have performed Peace Piece in different settings as a duo, and Leyh has performed it solo and with others at sunrise on Mardi Gras morning overlooking the Mississippi river in New Orleans for several years running.