Massively important bassist/producer Melvin Gibbs, who's worked with everyone from John Zorn and Christian Marclay to Dead Prez and Femi Kuti, cracks open another doorway entirely on 'The Wave', using unsettled hi-end synthesis and lysergic minimal sound design to nudge into sonic spaces closer to Mika Vainio, Bernhard Günter, or Coil, infusing his tactile minimalism with the texture and language of Black creativity. Transfixing material.
This one's got us completely delirious. Best known as a bassist, Melvin Gibbs has been active on the NYC downtown circuit since the early 1980s, and he's always been able to keep a foot in different worlds. He's well-known for his jazz fusion work, and has recorded extensively with Sonny Sharrock and Ronald Shannon Jackson, but he's equally notorious for his time as a member of Rollins Band, and his more recent excursions with ex-Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker.
Less known is Gibbs' interest in sound art; friends of Gibbs knew about his experiments, but 'The Wave' is the first release that opens up this side of his oeuvre to the rest of us, and it's a revelation. We know what you're thinking: jazz noodling and electronic music, we've heard it before. You'd be wrong - this is startling, precision engineered sonic doom that's as calm-headed and spiritual as Bernhard Günter's best material and as sharp-fanged and untamed as anything in Mika Vainio's catalog. It's an antidote to the weekly cavalcade of Hollywood experimental full-lengths - there's mercifully no 24/96 clangs stretched over eerie, metallic strings; Gibbs travels into inner space here, using rumbling industrial electronics and burned-out oscillators to map out a platform that makes connections between Miles Davis, Sunn O))), Lee 'Scratch' Perry, and Slikback.
Gibbs was ushered towards the process by decades of back-and-forth with his good friend Arthur Jafa, an artist and cinematographer who's worked with Spike Lee, Solange, and John Akomfrah, among many others. Jafa's artistic goal was to make films that guided creative thinkers in the same way that Black music did, and Gibbs took this as a challenge, studying pivotal filmmakers like Sergei Eisenstein and wondering how that approach might help trigger a musical revelation. He began to experiment with sound design using the Kyma system, and worked on soundtracks to two of Jafa's films in 2009 and 2013, naming his bass-heavy output "sonics" in the process. Gibbs connects the music to "rootwork", a traditional African-American folk medicine that's a potent blend of herbalism, psychotherapy, and ritualism. To Gibbs the practice is a form of magick that's not too far removed from his own, wherein he attempts to make tangible objects from liquid sounds. All of this energy passes into "The Wave" - initially another commission from Jafa - and seems to manifest in Gibbs' disquieting assemblies of booming subs, hard-EQed scratches, and insectoid oscillations. It's music without genre that doesn't look directly to camera and assure you how free it is; it just exists in the way it does because it has to. It's music that has evolved from experience, expertise, trauma, history, and serious research, and it's music that's as rooted in Black magickal folklore as Coil's is in the British occult.
Just as New England percussionist Jake Meginsky used the instructional logic of vanguard drummer Milford Graves to dissolve techno formulae into bubbling bleeps on 2016's 'Seven Psychotropic Sinewave Palindromes', Gibbs travels a similar path, using his outsized knowledge of jazz to expand a picture of electronic minimalism that passes the expected state lines. We've mentioned a lot of different artists here but - the truth is - 'The Wave' doesn't sound quite like any of them - it's a mass of yawning, animalistic bass frequencies, pricked by dissociated hi-frequency echoes; it's doom metal buried deep underground, then rescued and re-assembled by a future civilization; it's unstable ritual drum music that's slipping in psychedelic, primordial slop. Gibbs has done something remarkable, coming up with sound art that's at once unsettlingly alien and beautifully, fallibly human.
We didn't know we'd been waiting for this one, but it's just what 2022 had been missing. Absolutely phenomenal.