Jim Combs is back in his Sensitive Chaos guise, quite intent on fully captivating you with a mix of uptempo electronica, world-fusion accents and lush ambient spaces. Seeker After Patterns is filled with deft switches of identity that showcase Combs’ range of expression. He also pulls in contributions from a handful of electronic/ambient heavy hitters. As always, Brian Good is on hand with his electronic wind instrument (EWI) and saxophone, lending sweet lines that still pull up embedded memories of Shadowfax every time I hear him play. Good’s sax absolutely flies in the opening/title track, breathing swirly smooth-jazz grooves over Combs’ right-angle sequencers. (The disc also contains two shorter radio edits of this track, the second of which puts Good right in the forefront from the start.) On “A Piece of Stars,” one of several live tracks, Combs is abetted by veterans Tony Gerber, Paul Vnuk Jr. and Christian Birk. This improvised track is a twisting road of silken sound; Vnuk snaps out rhythms on electronic percussion and Gerber spins his own airy EWI web while Combs and Birk handle synth duty. Simply stunning, with touches of exotic romance. On “Simon Stilites Dreams of Rain,” Otso Pakarinen co-pilots with Combs on electronics while John McNicholas unleashes a psychedelic mind-melt on guitar. McNicholas’ playing could liquify your brain at 50 paces as he grinds away over the pulses and flows beneath him. Combs himself goes wonderfully ballistic with the remastering of “Sensitive Chaos,” originally recorded in the mid-80s. Here he piles four tracks of bass, 12-string guitar and drum machine into a mad tangle that comes to sound like Hell’s own dulcimer, played at speed over a casually funky bass line. Can’t get enough of this one. Combs’ solo work on Seeker…. is also superb. “L’Ascension,” played on a Roland JD-800 worked through a looper, is a hushed and melancholic piece with a story to tell. “Warm Glow of the Atomic Fire” is a straight-up drone-based floater, waving slowly through the air and shifting form in its own good time.
Seeker After Patterns is a true look at how diverse and talented a musician Combs is. On his own, he can churn playful electronics like “Psychic Twins of Gemini,” which is just plain fun and which reminds me of my favorite Sensitive Chaos track, “Nightshift at the Baby Mecha Nursery” from Leak, or craft ambient flows with a soft hand. He collaborates beautifully and is obviously very much in his element in a live setting. Outside of all that, Seeker After Patterns is just a great listen that stands up to repeat plays thanks to its variety and quality. Which is why it’s a Hypnagogue Highly Recommended CD.
Available from the Sensitive Chaos web site.