Certainties are sought in the midst of doubts. One seeks serviceable words to explicate music comprising familiar constituents, but often it’s preferable having the music itself, its temperament at least, dictating what we should learn. It may take weeks, though, as it happened to these ears for Sketches, the second album by Chicago’s Restroy (Christopher Dammann, bass and synthesizer; James Davis, trumpet and ring modulator; Kevin Davis, cello, big muff and ring modulator; Paul Giallorenzo, synthesizers and piano; Mabel Kwan, piano, synthesizers and clavichord; Avreeayl Ra, drums).
Project leader Dammann says that he loves the way the group’s members interact with him; in the last five years, he has done his utmost best to play with them as frequently as possible. The instrumental and spiritual togetherness identifiable in these six tracks definitely testifies in favor of the bassist’s statement. The ensuing music, however, does not sit easily in the list of known genres. It is imbued with a slightly melancholic, grey-sky mood through which James Davis’ trumpet acts as a lighthouse, at times with Kenny Wheeler-esque hues. There is no shortage of swing – of course there isn’t, with a renowned member of AACM such as Ra as a rhythmic driver – but it’s merged with North European undertones, perhaps reminiscent of certain Terje Rypdal milestones. “Shape Twenty” could be an ideal example of what we’re meaning here.
Once acknowledged the interplay’s overall transparency, it is also intriguing to detect tiny intrusions of foreign noise, or being startled by electronic patterns acting as a foundation for a somewhat easier track like “No Straight Lines”. Clear waters may be diverted towards muddier terrains, but everything remains appreciably cohesive throughout, including the conclusive “Shape Twenty-One”, recorded live. As seagulls during a hailstorm, the players keep their feet on the ground but look in silent hope to a better day, when they will attempt to fly again. In the meantime, we go back to the beginning for the umpteenth time, persuaded by Restroy’s earnestness, eager to shed some light on the mysterious facets of that collective instinct.