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Pianist Cameron Graves, who gained notoriety as a central member of Kamasi Washington’s West Coast Get Down collective, identifies his current musical style as “thrash jazz.” His sophomore release Seven, consists of 11 original tracks that rarely exceed three minutes. They are predominantly (and densely) through-composed, built in song form around a series of furious riffs that guitarist Colin Cook beefs up with a compact fuzz tone. Graves plays an acoustic piano, but plays it hard. (Why use a synth when the big strings are so thorny with overtones?) Where jazz beckons, thrash jazz shoves. It is music for mosh pits.
In fact, the group’s jazz background is hardly evident outside of their attention to syncopation and harmony. Cook spits atonal lines like a flamethrower throughout the spare solo space allotted on “Master Spirits” and the title track, but drummer Mike Mitchell seems to account for about 90 percent of the improvisation on the record. Playing over such fixed content, he is able to rattle off propulsive fills at any given moment. His kit is produced to sound snappy but engulfing, as if the listener were sitting in his lap.
Though the band matches the sonic heaviness of certain metal genres, its emotional palette could not be farther from the rage and negativity that they often impart. Instead, with its shreddy maximalism and cosmic cover art — Graves sometimes goes by “The Planetary Prince” — Seven channels a vibe of proud dorkiness similar to that epitomized by the bandleader’s long-standing collaborator Thundercat. Tracks like “Sons of Creation” and “Super Universes” come off as hi-fi adaptations of video game battle music. “Mansion Worlds” sounds like a dragon having a seizure.
Seven’s defiant lack of restraint might have been an issue if the group’s airtight barrage weren’t so fundamentally pleasing. No doubt the crew of hard rock cosmonauts accomplished exactly what they set out to do.
— Asher Wolf