In Red Orange Black, the shortest track on this album, Brendan Smyly’s saxophone carves more than curves through the air, sending irregular bursts of hawkish statements that are somewhat mitigated by breathy “downstrokes”. Against this (with this?), John Encarnacao’s guitar works sometimes in response, sometimes in opposition, as if vibrating with a need to speak that emerges in a rush before dropping back into just-controlled moments.
This isn’t really back-and-forth, more prod and parry, and it’s made more fascinating when taken as a kind of precursor to the next track, Flight, where Smyly serves more as a calling bird above the scatterings of busy and sometimes boxy percussion offered by Joshua Isaac. Together they are an interregnum of not-quite-settled air within this five-track album of music written to accompany the production of Alana Valentine’s play, Tinderbox.
There is little question about disquiet by Smoke And Mirrors, where an edge protrudes through the rustling air. The ability of Encarnacao, who is producer as well as composer, to make much out of little – in this case that acidic stomach/bitter back of the mouth feeling created essentially by noises-off and scratchings at the edges of your hearing – makes it hard to explain why your skin feels crawled on, but also impossible to deny.
It makes more sense too when heard in the context of this question in relation to Valentine’s play: is it possible to love someone who has committed an act of unspeakable wrong?
On either side of this trio, Encarnacao gives us slightly fuller sounds and more deeply explored areas that are never free of discomfort but aren’t defined by it, the connection between the album-opening title track and the closing Skyshow strong.
With the 16-minute Tinderbox, we move from emotional hesitation (cicadas and slowly rising saxophone; brief splashes of guitar chords) through a kind of immersion (the saxophone moving through the tree line of drums and cymbals, guitar making its own path beneath it) that doesn’t resolve in its end but rather takes its leave in enigmatic fashion (rolling toms, questioning guitar, nagging air). You don’t know where this will go, which makes the honk of sax at the start of Red Orange Black even more striking.
Skyshow begins with a thunderstorm (credited to engineer Mitchell Hart) that blows away but leaves trails of wind and disturbance behind which flare up and die down and flare up again. Here guitar can hang expectantly, its resonance faint but its little exploratory lines like insinuating tendrils, and percussion is more murmurings and brittle snaps. You don’t know if this has answered anything. But then, why should it?
BANDCAMP: LISTEN TO JOHN ENCARNACAO – TINDERBOX