Where Stems Meet Noise is a sweet and exciting jazz EP that makes you think if you feel like it.
“Life can be subtle and brutal, often mixed together in a spiritual stew.” These are some words Toronto-based composer and trumpeter Mac Rogers gives us in his new EP, Where Stems Meet Noise. Subtlety and brutality meet in jazz all the time. Great improvisers unravel their music into chaos only to elegantly put it back together. These two forces are at work in Rogers’ music, and in this new EP, so are the powers of spirituality and life.
The first track, “hymn of hmm,” takes us from easy listening to rock fusion, stopping off at free jazz in between. It has a mellow bassline, misty piano accents, simple, groovy drums, and a pretty trumpet melody. With a more prominent horn section following a lone trumpet, the song slowly becomes more dramatic, adding some buttery guitar to melt in with the pianos.
Then, subtlety abruptly meets brutality. The band crashes into complete free improvisation; it hits you like an anvil falling from the sky.
The chaos wraps up as quickly as it starts, but the earlier melodies continue with a touch more grit, more distortion, more prog-rock influence, more darkness and dissonance. The melodies walk on, changed by their temporary destruction.
“Hymn of Hmm” feels like a spiritual celebration of mundane life— a musical plea to appreciate the norm while it’s there, because when you’re sitting around going, “hmm,” an anvil could fall on you. Or a weird thought could suddenly stick out in your head, giving your day an odd colour. Or a global pandemic could interrupt your entire life. Or your toaster could burn your toast.
Maybe that’s why the next song is called “Struck”,only this song doesn’t have the same free jazz element hiding in its center. “struck” is more of a hard-bop tune, with different instrumentalists taking solos. It’s the kind of jazz you can tap your toe to without feeling too nervous.
It’s the final song, “Darn Sweet,”where Rogers lends his spoken word over electronic, ambient instrumentals. “Life can be subtle and brutal, often mixed together in a spiritual stew / A subtle emptiness and a brutal joy, in order undecided.” Then the refrain from “Struck” comes flying back with celebratory beauty.
Is Rogers trying to tell us to appreciate the joy in the brutality? Does his music explore the chaos hiding in everyday life, or is it a warning that the chaos can interrupt it? Many of Rogers’ intentions are uncertain, are uncertain, and to avoid trying to sound too deep the only conclusion I’ll draw is this: Where Stems Meet Noise is a sweet, thoughtful, well-composed jazz EP.