Album reviews

Irreversible Entanglements – ‘Protect Your Light’

Irreversible Entanglements – Protect Your Light
(Impulse!. Album review by Dan Bergsagel)

The first time I heard Irreversible Entanglements was by accident, during NYC Winter Jazzfest in January 2019. I was sitting tucked into a back row of a sparsely populated SoHo Playhouse past 1am expecting a different act. Inevitably, the schedule had slipped. The performance – and its intensity and emotional impact – was unexpected, and I left with an impression of feeling both totally wired and completely washed out. I also had a niggling sense of guilt – as if Irreversible Entanglements had done me a favour by letting me listen.

Protect Your Light, their fourth studio album (and first with Impulse!), retains some of their characteristic brain-melting free-jazz and strong words but intersperses it with more accessible and forgiving moments. The opening pair of tracks present this newer, softer recorded face. Free Love brings an overbearing and overwordy voice chanting from above through dramatic drums and epic horns, before switching to a bouncing bass line and rolling power drums, the horn refrain and vocals sashaying in and out, the reverb on big.

Title track Protect Your Light sandwiches a saxophone and trumpet breakdown between upbeat cowbell-led marches that couple crisp horns and rich vocals. Celestial Pathways paints a more introspective path still, a calm lament that is clear and open in tone. Muted trumpet partners comforting breathy sax, with shakers and toms pushing through before a restrained double bass briefly rounds out the texture before pulling to an abrupt halt. These three tracks combine Protect Your Light’ new studio craft (multi-tracked layers of spoken word and vocals) and earnest messaging with relatively concise playtimes. Lyrics such as “I want more love. Sweet love” and “Hold me in the river, sweet home” show a little more heart on sleeve than we’d expect. Is this tongue-in-cheek? 

Of course, Protect Your Light aIso showcases some of Irreversible Entanglements’ better-known fire. Our Land runs three minutes of anguished instrumental introduction, before breaking into a cool spoken word line of questioning on unresolved colonialism from Camae Ayewa over an even cooler creeping double bass and piano backing from Luke Stewart and Janice A. Lowe.  with ticking and embellishing percussion and spars dual horn melody highlight. The calm confident political chastising of Our Land contrasts with the agitated bass and multifaceted drumming of Tcheser Holmes on Soundness, in direct conversation with the wailing, squealing runs of Aquiles Navarro’s trumpet and Keir Neuringer’s saxophone. Soundness conjures anxiety through song and Ayewa’s repeated narrative refrain, finishing with a combination of wittering horns and rich cello from guest Lester St. Louis.

Closing track Degrees of Freedom ties two strands of the album – a gentler, less-acerbic spoken word delivery, accompanied with a two-phase instrumental flipping between agitated intensity and a composed confidence. Here a rapid fire percussive demonstration from Holmes meets the spiked interjections of the horns, before drawing the listener into a calming, hypnotic script paired with a lethargic pulsing beat, fluttering sax and floating trumpet. On Degrees of Freedom Irreversible Entanglements somehow manage to bring to mind totally disparate references: the restrained passionate vocals over punchy instrumental of I’m Just Looking from Dexys Midnight Runners early 1980s debut; the detached and dispassionate voiceover narrative set to a relaxed groove of Air’s late 1990s Suicide Underground. Degrees of Freedom is clearly a different beast with a very different hinterland to these two tracks, yet in tone it somehow adds a new piece to this small niche of unusual spoken word instrumental pairings.

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So much of what I remember from that first encounter with Irreversible Entanglements in 2019 was the free playing and clear indignation. Protect Your Light has less of both, and feels a little more accessible and a little less overwhelming as a result. However, so much of this perception is in the delivery, and this snapshot of a recording perhaps gives a false sense of security of understanding and forgiveness. Extended free blowing and hitting on record can alienate, feel too isolated and out of context, while in a live show it is endlessly engrossing and deep. This could well be a modulation for the medium, a soundscape that embraces the opportunities of a recording studio: more layers, more friends, more composition.

There is only one way to find out, and based on Protect Your Light, it is certainly worth attending a show on Irreversible Entanglements upcoming European tour to understand how this material is interpreted live. Some sharper edges to these crafted audio moments could make for a fascinating experience. Be prepared to feel totally wired, and totally washed out.

European tour 2023

Sat. Nov. 4 – Berlin, DE @ Jazzfest Berlin
Mon. Nov. 6 – Brussels, BE @ Ancienne Belgique
Fri. Nov. 10 – Paris, FR @ Festival d’Automne à Paris
Sat. Nov. 11 – Rotterdam, NL @ LantarenVenster
Sun. Nov. 12 – Utrecht, NL @ Le Guess Who?
Tue. Nov. 14 – Dublin, IE @ Whelans
Wed. Nov. 15 – London, UK @ EFG London Jazz Festival

LINK: Buy Protect Your Light

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