Jamal Traub gets exquisite with his latest release, Peripheral Love
The Unstoppable Jamal Traub released his latest album this week. I’ve listened to it half a dozen times so far and at this point there are two things I can say with certainty. First, it is an exquisite work. Second, it may be the most difficult album I’ve written about to date. In order to explain why, I must first veer wildly off-topic with a personal anecdote (as is my habit.)
Years ago when I first started taking the game of pool seriously, I found myself a mentor. My mentor was so good I did not appreciate her skill at first. Of course she always won. Her shots were always short, and perfectly aligned. Why, anyone could win all the time with that kind of luck!
I’m sure we all realize that it wasn’t luck, though, it was a level of mastery that enabled her to consistently make her current shot and then put the cue ball precisely where it needed to be to make the next one (or two, or three, actually.) It’s one thing to know that’s how the game is played; it is quite another to see it done so well.
The best make it look easy. That describes my pool mentor and that describes Jamal Traub’s approach to this new album. At first listen, the tunes seem simple. By some metrics, they are simple. It certainly isn’t fusion jazz or the kind of prog rock that takes six fingers per hand and a whole extra arm to play properly.
At first listen, the tunes seem simple, but they aren’t. What they really are is the perfect distillation of larger themes and bigger music in to the most basic components that still maintain the integrity of the expression. Put another way, it seems to me that Traub has mastered a kind of economy of music without sacrificing depth.
Here’s a riddle for you: What do Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, Paul Simon and the Beatles all have in common? I don’t know, but whatever it is, Traub has it in abundance. The opening track, “Anticipation,” is an instrumental tune that begins with a babbling brook and some frogs and winds up in a funky, countrified jam worthy of Jerry Garcia.
Song two, “Corner of Your Eye,” opens with Traub’s acoustic work. After a few measures he sings and if his guitar playing is as distinctive as a thumb print (it is), then his voice is equally so though it must be said that his style is at times very reminiscent of Paul Simon from the seventies. Likewise, some of the production technique and effects in this tune give it a Pink Floyd sound; “If” from Atom Heart Mother comes to mind.
Track three, “The Fall,” highlights Traub’s skill as a lyricist. Again, there is a deceptive simplicity at play that uses humor and straightforward talk to mask deeper points (local group Sparky the Band has similar chops.) Indeed, the winner of a slug race isn’t so much the first across the line as it is the last to get eaten. Depending on your philosophical and economic outlook, the same might be said for the rat race.
The album overall manages to be rife with commentary and thematic cohesion without ever being too obvious or heavy-handed. To the contrary, the music is rather playful, though never silly and it is this playfulness that invokes the Beatles, or at least a specific era of the Beatles.
I do not know how long this album took to conceive or produce it was clearly a very thoughtful, painstaking process. The songs may appear to be deceptively simple, but the process by which they were created most certainly was not.
Kudos to producer Ross Carlson who, except for a few special guest artists including our own Ernie Paik on violin, played every other instrument on the album including bass, drums, electric guitar and keys. The guy has mad skills and there is an obvious chemistry between the producer and the artist that they both ought to capitalize on in future projects.
For the moment, the only way to get your own copy of this utterly fascinating work is to buy one at their live shows, though it is scheduled to be available online later this year.