Ben Holmes’ Naked Lore (Chant Records) is an intriguing and hypnotic set of music from the trio of Holmes on trumpet, Brad Shepik on guitars, and Shane Shanahan on percussion.
From the opening moments there is no doubt about Holmes mastery of his instrument, his fluid and dextrous trumpet swirls and punches across every track, his virtuosity a by product of his expression, every beautifully crafted line and interjection is woven as a narrative thread throughout this set. Self-described as “a soundtrack to the folk stories your grandparents vowed to forget,” there is a lot to unpick or get lost in here. Contemporary folk music from the Brooklyn enclave.
The plaintive wail of Invocation I/Snake Money gives way to swirling Sephardi flamenco flavours and hypnotic rhythmic propulsion, the music is a heady mixture of the protagonists varied experience, whilst conjuring moods and flavours stretching into the past and an otherworldly sense of mystical geography, it also feels rooted in the Downtown/Brooklyn reality of its conception. An alchemists melting pot transmuting global influences into an elixir of 21st century tradition, skipping between its constituent parts, flamenco, balkan, Indian flavours swept in and scattered out in a cohesive flurry of ecstasy.
There is a joyful interaction of the contrapuntal opening of Two Oh No’s and an Oh! no No! With Holmes and Shepik playing lines that swirl around each other set amongst Shanahan’s percussion breaks before converging and darkening, thickening into a dark and brooding middle eastern theme. Holmes extemporising and increasing in intensity over a building, driving, relentless ostinato, his pyrotechnics soaring into the higher register before reiterating and extemporising on the opening again as a launchpad for Shepik’s improvisation is a high point of the track as well as the record.
First We Were Sad; Then We Danced stretches the band out on a rollercoaster journey, Holmes pulls eloquently at his melodic line alternating between crisply articulated flurries and laid back melodic fragments, the music evolving into a more grungesque flamenco backing as backdrop for another sparkling solo, Holmes is able to condense and transport the history of avant-Jewish trumpet playing from Ziggy Elman, subverting the Hora, to modern day master Frank London (who Holmes has subbed for in Zion80) into a single whinny, placing him in an enviable continuum.
The elegiac All Together flits between ballad and etude, a deceptively angular melody with wide intervalic passages smoothed into a passionate weeping refrain. Similarly with Invocation II/The Dust Of Unremembering The trumpet cadenza/invention as an introduction leads gloriously and seamlessly into further exploration over a deeply hypnotic groove pattern. Holmes’ canon as solo performer thrust into the spotlight on these tracks, his solo playing relishing the space and vacuum, flowing out to fill the void.
There is a feeling of solo etudes which stretch out into ensemble interaction, building and reinventing with organic delight.
Naked Lore is well crafted and varied, the ensemble handle the creation of space deftly, able to flit between deceptively dense sections and starkly isolated moments. There are reminiscence here of Ron Miles’ Quiver beyond the obvious line up parallels and stylistic differences the interplay and interaction which speaks to a deeper understanding of the musicians. The playing manages to both highlight their skills but place their interaction not individualism at its core.