The Kandinsky Effect’s Somnambulist presents jazz fusion in the original sense of the term. The trio’s power emanates from the way in which saxophonist Warren Walker, bassist Gaël Petrina and drummer Caleb Dolister combine their sounds, rather than from their individual flavors. At the core, their work remains recognizably jazz — music that’s played, not processed — despite the various studio manipulations employed in its making.
“Colpachi Distress Signal” opens the album with Walker’s chiming variant on an emergency warning, to which Dolister’s treated percussion adds a further element of unease. When bassist Petrina enters, he’s accompanied by a drone effect that enhances Walker’s sinister solo, as well as by beats that recall the trip-hop vibe associated with Massive Attack and Tricky.
The title track is similarly dark, thanks to electronic additives with a decidedly old-school slant — heavy echo, classic sci-fi soundtrack whooshes and whoops — and a Petrina groove pushed so far forward in the mix that it challenges Walker’s wailing for lead-instrumental supremacy. Subsequent tracks are equally ominous, although some offer stylistic diversity. “Petit Loup” boasts a lyrical quality, while “Flips” actually swings at times thanks to Dolister’s heavy timekeeping that nonetheless accentuates the backbeat. Likewise, “Annabelle Chases a Bug” is more of a pleasant meander than a driving pounder. Meanwhile, “Chomsky” skitters from mood to mood with the intellectual restlessness of its erudite namesake, and “Sunbathing Manatee” finds the trio negotiating an aural ocean with a seaworthy sense of calm.
Still, the most memorable tracks here are the oddest. Count among them the concluding “Muji,” on which Petrina and Dolister’s rhythms tumble over each other as Walker’s siren-like sax floats above the action. At moments like these, no one would call Somnambulist sleepy. —Michael Roberts