Space is the place many of us probably would have liked to have gone to…
Space is the place many of us probably would have liked to have gone to escape the fresh hell of everything wrought by 2020. But the outer regions — in concept, at least — can also be a place to free our inner spirits, as saxophonist Aaron Burnett demonstrates on Jupiter Conjunct, the engaging, frequently hypnotic followup to Anomaly, the widely admired 2019 album from his Big Machine group.
Burnett’s music is nothing if not focused on navigating the crevices and passageways between musical dimensions, as typified here by two versions of “Ganymede,” a collaboration with superstar bassist Esperanza Spalding, with whom the saxophonist has toured extensively. The careering unison lines of the leader’s tenor and Spalding’s wordless vocals are reminiscent of vintage fusion. Kush Abadey’s hyperactive, scenery-chewing drums drive hip-hop grooves, and other elements and effects offer EDM colors. Burnett and trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, in particular, turn in exhilarating solos on both takes of the tune.
Burnett’s latest compositions were inspired by his reflections on the forces that keep the solar system’s largest planet connected to its four largest moons, each of which gets its own salute. In addition to “Ganymede,” there’s the haunting trumpet-tenor lines over the pulsating soundscapes of “Callisto,” dedicated to Wayne Shorter; the bop-to-avant contours of “Io,” lit by Joel Ross’ conversational, questioning vibraphones; and the even trippier, EDM-soaked “Europa.”
The varied textures and tonal temperatures of the opening “Color Durations” and “The Veil” feel like warmups for the more intense tracks to come. The ferocious “Ether,” for example, is partly built on a relentless back-and-forth between the rhythm section’s relentlessly serpentining lines and the horn players’ brash, gritty response. It all builds toward a gripping maelstrom of sound. Best hold on tight.
— Philip Booth