On November 3rd, Toronto’s Badge Époque Ensemble return to Telephone Explosion Records with their new album Air, Light & Harmony. The release keeps up the jazz-funk group’s torrid pace of releases for TER; A,L&H being their 6th LP release, and 4th proper album for the label since 2019.
The release completes a trilogy of triptych-titled works, following 2019’s Nature, Man & Woman, and 2021’s Future, Past & Present. All 3 of these releases feature compositions which resample loops and stems from prior albums. Air, Light & Harmony takes this gambit further with in-house recycling of snippets from dusty LP copies of their own work (ala Portishead’s famed approach) featured throughout to create warped and ambiguous moodscapes. This emphasis on texture is befitting of BÉE’s only entirely instrumental album.
In many ways this latest work is a counterweight to the maximalism of last year’s Polaris long listed Clouds of Joy album. Clouds carries the density of a Discogs rabbit-hole binge, with its nearly 20 contributors; precise arrangements, soaring choir vocals, extended solos and meditations on joy… By contrast, Air, Light & Harmony has a distinct yin energy - a lightness of touch that could be said to resemble a playlist as much as an album (something playfully alluded to by the generic streaming service displayed on an iPhone screen that is the album’s cover).
Bandleader Maximilian Turnbull has alluded to the change-up: “I wanted to do an album that was more sketch than painting. No deliberation, just spontaneous movement.” Accordingly, the record was made swiftly in Turnbull’s garage home-studio, and is characterised by an unassuming breeziness.
The title track, a co-write between Turnbull and keyboardist Edwin de Goeij glides off a sample of drummer Jay Anderson’s boom-bap thwack, coming on like an uncharacteristically sinister Azymuth groove interrupted by nervous, stuttering drum chops, and a vibraphone solo from percussionist Ed Squires.
‘Spider Perched On An Illusion’ is an uncut gem which alternates between a sequence of Zappa-esque pointillism, and a smokey acoustic-driven groove; competing vibraphone and flute solos ensue.
Elsewhere ‘Bowls’ finds the Badge modulating tone to something altogether silkier, and more candle-lit. Blunted rimshots keep time to masterfully moody exposition by guitarist Chris Bezant and saxophonist Karen Ng while an ECM-era reverb plate envelops congas, fretless bass and DX7-smooth keys in contemplative atmosphere.
‘Goding of Think’ & ‘Thinking of God’ are two sides of a single coin; a screwed loop drifts into focus on the strength of Gio Rosati’s nimble bass playing, while Ng and flautist Alia O’Brien are each granted the runway of an entire cut to blow freely, creating deep pools of hip gnosis.
Following collaborations with rappers Boldy James and O.C., BÉE keep their DJ-crated rap bonafides in order with a dusted cover of Henry Mancini’s exotica classic ‘Lujon’, and with album closer ‘Stalled In Genesis’ which features bombastically chopped drum fills that wouldn’t be out of place on a Just Blaze production.
Quite suddenly, the record is over, demanding that you flip from end of side B back to start of side A (or simply asking Siri to do the equivalent). A stylistic tour this broad, yet unassuming is a rare accomplishment befitting such a unique and eclectic group. Like water finding its level, Badge Époque Ensemble have created an album with a free flowing approach, arriving at their plane of sound naturally, a place you would do well to dip into. - Telephone Explosion Records