A brief observation of the knotty tones and convoluted song structures of Gist Is, the debut LP from the Leeds quartet, Adult Jazz, suggests this is not what they are aiming for. So we turn to a second possible definition: that of a grown-up and evolved jazz music. Gist Is is a world unto itself: 9 tracks, subscribing to their own inner logic, as beats, broken synthesizers, horns, and weightless vocals rise and fall, like buried memories, or half-remembered dreams.
Another reviewer hinted towards the improvisational nature of the way that sounds rise and fall on Gist Is — but considering the wide range of instruments and styles covered, not to mention how cleanly produced and arranged the album is, this seems impossible. Taking, for instance, the soulful brass stabs that appear out of the blue at the end of the epic “Hum”, one can assert that Adult Jazz know exactly what they’re doing. They’re building very specific soundworlds to get lost in.
A vaguely spiritual air permeates the entire proceedings, as Harry Burgess’ airy falsetto vocals are layered and modulated into alien hymns that suggest a seeking of a true New Age mysticism, wherever they may find it. Adult Jazz coalesce the yearning, seeking, visionary qualities of traditional devotional music (“Hum”, “Idiot Mantra”), experimental post-punk (the metallic guitar textures of “Springful”), avant-garde classical (“Hum”), and exploratory, guitar-centric indie rock, a la Radiohead. They meld and fuse these rhythms from all over the world into strange and sterling sculptures previously unimagined, unafraid to draw from whatever source suits their magpie mantras. In the process, they show we all pray with the same tongues, in different dialects. We are all looking for the source, the essence, the future.
Seeking the future, by assembling bits and pieces of the past? Some cultural critics find this notion problematic. When you take a moment and a bit of perspective, you might realize that this phenomena is a very recent occurrence, and a direct result of the interconnected world we are living in. During the 20th Century, when we were still largely operating under the illusion of “progress”, genres rose and fell in a war of attrition, and to look backwards was death. You would be immediately be deemed “uncool” and “old-fashioned”, as punk rock gave way to new wave to hardcore. Anything old was immediately jettisoned, as we tore every rule, rhyme, or reason to pieces, without offering much in the way of replacement, leaving us with the harsh atonal blasts of free jazz and noise music. While free musics of all kind opened up the playing field in a number of important ways, it is also insidiously difficult to instigate any kind of quality control. Anybody who has spent any amount of time sorting through stacks of Albert Ayler and Consumer Electronics records can tell you, it is difficult to differentiate what is inspired, and what is complete bullshit.
I was reminded of a wide array of genre-benders and forward thinkers while listening to Gist Is, from avant-disco angel Arthur Russell, to mutant folkees Efterklang, to The Knife, to Jaoa Gilberto, and anyone who likes anything about any of those bands will find something to titillate their tympanum, along the way, and may discover some fresh delights, to change the way they see and hear the world.
Adult Jazz are cherry-picking the entire history of world music to construct something brand new. They know what they are going for, and have brought it forth in an exquisite culmination on Gist Is. They must be doing something right, as Gist Is is winning praise from countless esteemed tastemakers, scoring a victory for intricate, expansive, visionary, risk-taking music, which is the embodiment of the new and forward-thinking. Gist Is is avant-garde, but still poppy and accessible.