Words by Roger Weisman
For an artist who has always been restlessly eclectic and wary of labels, Jane Getter seems to have found where her sound lives. Anomalia, the guitarist’s new album (her fifth, but the second credited to The Jane Getter Premonition) digs into and embellishes on the hard edged, moody, progressive/fusion style that she so masterfully embodied on the first Premonition album, 2015’s On. Most of the players from that album have returned, including keyboardist, co-producer Adam Holzman (Miles Davis, Steven Wilson), guitar shredder extraordinaire Alex Skolnick (Testament), and drummer Chad Wackerman (Frank Zappa, Allan Holdsworth). The result is an album of broad soundscapes, alternately aggressive and lush, chock full of exquisite musical interplay and tasty soloing, all drenched in feeling.
A listen through her catalog shows how she arrived at her dynamic, cinematic style of music via a circuitous route, spending years wending her ways through genres and stylistic variations. By the time she made her first album, 1998’s Jane, she had already stretched out beyond her straight jazz beginnings. In her early recordings, initially living mostly in the world of funk-influenced soul-jazz, gradually incorporating both more hard rock and rhythm & blues flavors, there were few hints at the direction to come.
The opening of Anomalia is undeniably “prog.” Establishing the mood with its dark and angular riff and foreboding atmosphere, “Kryptone” sounds like a tribute to King Crimson with its whisper-to-a-scream dynamics and use of Mellotron strings. In fact, remove a few layers and siphon off some of the groove, and it could pass as an outtake from that band’s Larks’ Tongues in Aspic album. Fusion and prog have always been like conjoined twins born of different parents. The blurry line between the two is often marked by audience preconceptions of the artists rather than the sound of the music itself.
And that’s just fine. Getter has always been vocal about her disdain for labels, particularly the dreaded “F” word (fusion), even if the music reflects that term in the best sense. On Anomalia, the jagged riffs and progressions are colored not only by her background in jazz, but also with her studies and explorations in world music, leading to her constantly devising new modes. The result is that the music succeeds on a heady level as well as an emotional one.
And it surely is an emotional record. Jane’s music and accompanying lyrics have a searching quality, as if to make sense of herself and her surroundings. Jane’s plaintive voice conveys a gentle disquiet while the lyrical themes are permeated with world-weariness, righteous anger, feelings of disorientation, but also with glimmers of hope and even the occasional sentimentality. Though the Premonition’s records lean more heavily on song structure than the works credited to Jane as a solo artist (aside from the album’s bookends, the only instrumental track is the foreboding but mischievous film noir for the mind, “Queenof Spies”), at their best the words seem to exist to create a framework in which the musical themes mingle and expound on the proposed ideas.
Tracks like “Dissembler” and “Alien Refugee” are very much based on her ruminations on the state of the country and the world, featuring vastly contrasting tones of fury and sympathy. On “Dissembler,”
the rhythm section of Hamm and Wackerman is swapped out for bassist Mark Egan (Pat Metheny Group, Elements) and drummer Gene Lake (Henry Threadgill, David Sanborn), and also features guest guitarist Vernon Reid. By far the angriest song on the album, the words of accusing castigation are sung with cold, understated venom by vocalist Randy McStine. “Your greed is so wide we can’t believe,” he sings, “you care only for you and your needs.” Hardly subtle, but clearly not meant to be. The three guitar line-up, a highlight of many of Getter’s live shows, does not disappoint here, with each player illustrating a completely different aspect of the instrument.
Conversely, “Alien Refugee,” written about unrest in Syria, manages to find a nice balance between the darkness and the light, the desolate and the hopeful. Constructed around a sparse acoustic guitar figure, the song builds in scope and breadth. It features wonderful vocals from both singers, with the voices becoming more and more disembodied, disappearing into the landscape. There is a wind-swept feeling to the track, capturing the desert landscape in a haunting way, almost like seeing a movie in slow motion.
The songs of self-reflection, likewise, seem to reflect opposites. “Lessons Learned” seems to both scold and encourage, with the narrator either passing on the hard earned knowledge she has accumulated, or affirming to herself. Her vocals are alternately weary, sagacious, and ethereal. The instrumental middle section begins as a ghostly waltz, gaining in ferocity when taken over by Jane’s guitar, her tone both ferocious and lyrical, bringing the song to a peak as bassist Stu Hamm and drummer Chad Wackerman pick up on her intensity.
“Still Here,” on the other hand, seems to depict the lost soul yet to learn those lessons and is at a crossroads in her life… Or maybe our protagonist is just lost in the Bronx. Getter layers her plaintive, lost-in-the-fog voice into ethereal, reverberating harmonies before the mood becomes more panicked. The extended coda of the song, featuring an array of Holzman’s dizzying synthesizer sounds played against a cold, robotic GPS voice presents the question: Is this song a metaphor, or a warning against excessive use of metaphor?
There is a note of optimism, however. A bright, folky acoustic guitar lick begins “Answers.” Probably the most hopeful, lilting song on the album, it features a bright, expressive vocal by guest Chanda Rule. Jane’s acoustic and Adam Holtzman’s piano bring a buoyancy and airiness. Even as the sound becomes more and more layered, the song floats and glides. It is a highly satisfying track.
The album climaxes with “Disappear,” a song of loss that feels like the most personal on the album. It certainly includes the most romantic and evocative lyrics (co-written with Beth Multer), and indeed, it is the only time on the album in which Getter indulges in the poetic. The music is by turns delicate and tense, with feelings of loss manifesting alternately as wistfulness and anxiety.
Getter and company have created an album pulls together her disparate influences and musical experiences in a way that manages to be dynamic, eclectic, and varied, but still with a definite feeling of coherence and continuity. Its vast sonic vistas, stunning composition, and virtuosic musicianship also make it an album that unfolds and reveals more or itself with each successive listen.
© March 26, 2021
TheWaster.com | Anomalia