Joe De Vita: Evolution

On his newest release, Joe DeVita alternates between laying out cool jazz licks on guitar and piano and running those same licks through a sonic meat grinder to blend them with potent, experimental spices to bring out a whole new flavor. The result is an interesting and sometimes mildly confounding disc, set out in three multi-part movements, that changes identities over and over. While the disc is at its most accessible when DeVita is playing it straight–he’s a superb jazz musician–the riskier pieces also have their own flair. “Visions,” part of Movement 1, starts with fairly straightfoward electric piano and hand percussion over a spoken word piece (which carries the title theme through the disc)–but as it goes along, only the voice retains “normalcy.” The background begins to fill with random sounds clashing against each other and the piano feels more improvised. Late in the track, and moving into “Journey,” it seems that DeVita picks out phrases or pieces thereof and drops them back into the wash. I’m not sure how much here is caught played live and how much is looped/processed/post-produced, but the artist makes great use of this sort of repetition throughout. “The Spiral” (Movement 1) starts off sounding like an intimate jazz combo before DeVita again roughs up the background and piles on densities of resonant sound, swirling phrases and clatter. What makes it work is the set of heavy piano chords and steady bass and drums laid down with an unwavering, Brubeck-like solidity in the face of this sonic storm. The stretch formed by “Secret Meetings” and “Can You See It?” in Movement 3 borders on dark ambient, with big rushes of grim sound, buried and weirdly processed vocal samples, and feedback drones.

Personally, I find Evolution to be at its strongest when it’s not venturing too far off into avant-garde land. “Requiem,” from Movement 1, is a beautiful arrangement of piano backed by a whisper of synth chords. Movement 2, which is just two tracks long, showcases DeVita’s spiraling, liquid guitar work. On “In Perfect Silence” it stands by itself save for more of the spoken piece and simple choral synth pads sighing beneath it. The guitar here is very soulful, hanging meaningful pauses and letting the resonance of the hollow body sing undertone. “Man vs. Nature” is a no-frills small-combo outing, a pure jazz groove of guitar, piano and bass. (In the opening of Movement 3, “The Heretic,” DeVita takes that same structure and coarsens it–the guitar fuzzes out and gets frantic, the piano and bass wander around the room a little more freely. It’s a great juxtaposition.)  The closing track of Movement 3, “Funeral March,” is filled with gorgeous guitar runs lightly backed up with electric piano chords and touches of electronic treatment. The guitar here again absolutely drips with sad soul.

It helps to have a taste for jazz going into Evolution At its heart, it’s a jazz disc with electronic intentions and an experimental spirit. As I said, it changes it appearance often, but each switch brings a new way to appreciate Joe DeVita’s talent.

Available from Daddy Tank.

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