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Fontanelle: Style Drift

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Fontanelle makes music by seance, gathering around a drum set and channeling the spirit of Sun Ra through an Atari console. Okay, not really, but that would explain their aural alchemy on Style Drift. This Oregon quartet concocts a musical hybrid of jazz, funk, and electronica by augmenting their guitars and keyboards with an array of computer-driven sonic manipulation. Oftentimes, the only recognizable instrument is the drum kit; other times, a keyboard sounds like a keyboard or a wah-wah guitar lick comes through. It’s a fluid sound that members Andy Brown and Rex Ritter had just begun to cultivate with Jessamine when that formerly drone-rock ensemble dispersed, and it has flowered in the course of three instrumental releases.
Fontanelle’s music is consistently driving and funky, but also minimalist, even ambient. Notably absent are pulsing techno basslines, slapped funk bass, and post-rock bass melodies, all of which would fit right in on various tracks. Mind, the album isn’t top-heavy. However, it’s the frequent absence of those familiar and often monotonous bass templates that gives Fontanelle room to work. In particular, it lends the compositions an improvisational air. Ornette Coleman might have made this record, if he had played the laptop, or Herbie Hancock if he had stayed the instrumental course in the ’70s. And the latter comparison isn’t novel, the band purportedly records in a manner similar to the Silent-Way era Miles Davis group: heavily editing extended improvisations into final compositions—pioneer remixes, one might say
Interslices, the opener—available, though mis-spelled, at epitonic.com courtesy of the tech-friendly Kranky label—establishes the bands use of space and timing to create tension, which is always welcome, provided release follows. The composition retains the listeners interest with a measure of unpredictability, an almost reckless improvisation, but satisfies with a driving refrain.

Next, on “Just, Go, Crazy” a snippet of the keyboard melody bears a personally disconcerting resemblence to the Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like an Eagle.” Though the track is an otherwise pleasing concoction, and, along with the succinct and bubbly “Red Light, Green Light,” of the album’s more upbeat. Note: that’s not frenetic. Although Fontanelle interweaves multiple rhythms and melodies so that each track is a sonic collage, they run a greater risk of floundering than flailing.
For example, “Scissure” never quite arrives as a composition. It merely ambles along. A similar aimlessness resurfaces on the twelve-minute title track, albeit briefly. The handclaps that begin the song intimate a playfullness throughout, and a funky guitar and fuzzy keys sew together seemingly independent jams. Is that a guitar or a steel drum? Is that R2-D2? This is what the muppet band in Star Wars should have sounded like.
The eight-minute closer, “Monday Morning,” makes liberal use of ambient electronic texture and what well might be a miniature Casio keyboard, but a meandering bass guitar and steady cymbal work keep things moving. The standout song? “James Going,” right in the middle, displays the quartet at it’s tightest.

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