Joseph Shabason’s Aytche is one of 2017’s most singular listening experiences.
For weeks now I have been unable to make heads or tails of Aytche, the ambiguously brilliant solo debut release from Joseph Shabason. If his name is not immediately familiar, his stunning saxophone and synth work on the latest Destroyer and DIANA albums will be. Whether it’s Shabason’s buttery smooth playing on Kaputt or the muted, moody contributions to this year’s ken, his sax work is distinctive. For his own record, though, Shabason sets out to upend preconceived notions about contemporary jazz and the lengths to which the sax’s sound can be stretched, manipulated, reconfigured, and reframed.
The head-scratching nature of Aytche (pronounced H) is in part due to the interconnectedness of its nine songs. Aytche is a deep pool of liquid synths, subtle percussion, and free-flowing arrangements that bubble with brass flourishes. At its core is Shabason’s sax, processed and pushed through effect pedals, buoyant and floating like ribbons. Opener “Looking Forward to Something, Dude” introduces us to Aytche’s inherent disposition; its sinuous chords leaves passive and active listeners alike disorientated, blurring the lines that separate each composition.
Taken as a whole, Aytche is a compelling, immersive work that reveals more treasures with every subsequent dive. JP Carter lends a sorrowful, soulful muted trumpet to the title track’s minimalist atmosphere; “Neil McCauley” (possibly/probably named after Robert DeNiro’s character in Heat?) is a haunting, late-night urban lullaby; “Westmeath” features snippets of an archival interview with the son of a Holocaust survivor, recounting his father’s trauma and subsequent suicide. Shabason, whose grandparents survived the Holocaust, interprets the emotions he experienced while delving through hours of footage with a nuanced grace. “Westmeath” becomes both the anchor and guiding light for Aytche, before the rapturous cacophony of “Belching Smoke” brings us back to Shabason’s opening tendrils of sax chords, tying a delightfully dishevelled bow on the preceding forty minutes.
Aytche is a head scratcher of a record, but it’s one that’s compelled me to return over and over again. From late night listenings, to background driving music, to immersive spins with a pair of headphones on and the lights turned low, Joseph Shabason has crafted one of the year’s most singular listening experiences.