Reuben Bradley: Cthulhu Rising (Rattle Jazz)

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In His House at R'lyeh
Reuben Bradley: Cthulhu Rising (Rattle Jazz)

First in passing, a comment about the consistency of packaging of CDs on the Rattle and Rattle Jazz labels: they are excellent and make the CD into an art object. That is enhanced especially on classical albums associated with the Wallace Art Trust where a work from that collection is included in the cover with a short biographical note about the artist.

AS with ECM albums, there is also a consistency about the cover images to the extent you get the feeling you should “collect the series”.

If have been doing that, you'd have quite a shelf of Rattle/Rattle Jazz albums . . . about 60 or 70 all up would be my guess.

This is the third album on Rattle Jazz lead by Wellington drummer Reuben Bradley – following the excellent Resonator (2011) and Mantis ('12) – and comes in a cover showing a striking portrait of the man whose work has impelled this project, the horror writer H. P. Lovecraft.

The album title and pieces allude to the figure of Cthulhu in Lovecraft's scary stories, a mythical sea creature which, like the Kraken, can rise from the depths.

This is dark and unsettling stuff, and the music by Bradley, Grammy-nominated American pianist Taylor Eigsti and bassist Matt Penman (one of New Zealand's finest jazz exports) leads the listener in to these areas, but not just by creating some rather obvious spook-circus.

Rather, Bradley writes pieces which, while sometimes high on drama (the opening passages of Clay Horror after the Prologue), are also insinuatingly melodic. The last third of Clay Horror for example includes passages by Eigsti which are stately and almost Victorian before some rippling post-bop and some stentorian chords.

The effect therefore is one of keeping the listener not just on edge but frequently ill-prepared for the next change of direction. At a pinch you might think this all somewhat prog-rock in the manner of King Crimson, albeit realised by a piano trio.

Holding all this together is Bradley's geometric drumming which shapeshifts the rhythms, and Penman's bass which can sing as much as ground the music.

There are also some quite breathtaking passages here – the muscular Johansen's Voyage is utterly compelling to the point of painting aural pictures of the frequently terrifying third chapter in Lovecraft's weird short story The Call of Cthulhu.

The gentle ballad with blue inflections The Price We Pay which follows is part of the tension-and-release character of the album . . . although when we get into In His House at R'lyeh you can feel the shadows and claustrophobia close in as Bradley fills the available space. A feeling echoed in Eigsti impressively furious and repeated figures on The Esoteric Order of the Dragon, and again on the pounding, brief Cthulhu Fhtagn (Bradley really the key performer here).

Cthulhu Rising is an ambitious and perhaps even esoteric cycle at the interface of jazz, imaginary soundtrack, classical composition and, improbably, prog-rock. But, necessarily dark though it may be in places, it also swings aggressively (The Shadow Out of Time) and hits some more tender places.

Cthulhu would be an unwelcome guest, this album certainly isn't.

Oh, and on the cover . . . . don't Lovecraft's eyes kinda follow you around the room?

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