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Balmorhea: Stranger 

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Label: Western Vinyl


Sure a track list exists for Austin, Texas, avant-garde jazz group Balmorhea’s latest album, Stranger, but it probably doesn’t need one. From start to finish the album truly is a singular adventure where songs transition into one another with rest periods rather than true breaks in the music.

Listening to Balmorhea’s string-heavy minimalist jazz is like ascending and descending a mountain trail. Piano and violin recreate the climb and electric guitar and thundering drums represent the crest. At times every instrument drops out but one and you find yourself descending into a lush valley of flowing acoustic guitar, piano or cello.

The voices of the six-member ensemble usually function more as instruments than conveyors of words. Simple one-note harmonies are sung as parallels to the cello and violin. The result is a blank canvas of feeling upon which listeners can paint their own life experiences.

While elements of traditional jazz can be found on tracks like “Pyrakantha,” Stranger goes out there leaving behind the conventional understanding of the genre. Those familiar with The Rippingtons or George Benson will likely find their influences deep within the underlying jazz beats used by Balmorhea.

They make it different by taking hold of the fundamentals of a jazz sound and getting aggressive. For instance, with the distortion guitar on “Artifact” Balmorhea creates something distinctive. It should be a lightning rod for lovers of instrumental music—especially those who think a lot.

Dig Deeper:

All Is Wild, All Is Silent (2009): Just the first two tracks of this album could have been enough to put this record amongst the best of that year. Luckily, Balmorhea didn’t stop there and the result is a transcendent jazz-infused soundtrack for any day of any season filled with any emotion.

Live at Sint-Eisabethkerk (2011): Balmorhea doesn’t tour much, but their shows are epic. That makes this rare glimpse into a live performance truly special


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