By Daniel Margolis | Published September 2022
Doubles’ album title references the concept of duality and a popular Trinidadian street food. But, ultimately, it’s about the doubled instrumentation across the ensemble: two saxophones, two drum sets and two, or more, synths.
It’s the new album by New Orleans-based Basher, led by composer and saxophonist Byron Asher. In the band, he is joined by multi-instrumentalist and saxophonist Aurora Nealand, synthesist and pianist Daniel Meinecke, and a two-drum set Cajun percussion section made up of Lafayette, Louisiana-native Brad Webb and Lafayette, Louisiana-based Zach Rhea. Within their hometown creative music scene, they’ve became known as a “free-jazz party band.”
Does Basher live up to this? For the most part, yes. Early in the disc, “Primetime-A-Go-go” establishes a firm groove for its two sax men to spar over. “Claptrack Clapback” does the same, at a slower pace, before letting all the synths on hand really get worked out. “Ponchatoula” slows it down more, to the pace of a ballad — guess this really is a free-jazz party band, because a couple could slow dance to this — though the band admirably throws in a bright bridge and some synth squiggles to brighten the mood. The wildest excursion here is “Step Pyramid,” which starts with just handclaps and synths before essaying everything Basher can do over deeply felt organ chord changes that give way to the starting theme. The aptly named “Carnival 2019” slaps just as hard, even offering a drum breakdown with a synth assist that’s archly led back to the tune by the horn section.
But the band gets the most free on what might be called its interstitials. Short opener “Diana,” devoid of percussion but rammed full of expressive horns and synths, feels more like an excursion you’d zone out to than dance to. The same feels true of the almost sci-fi feeling “Artemis,” which quickly gets in and out the same way, as does “Bacchus,” with what sounds like a loudly idling car running through it.
The album is at its most fascinating when this element is allowed room to breathe on longer tracks. “Zephyr” is pure creeping dread — undeniably free. “Borealis” is just as stunning, opening with only Asher and Nealand’s saxes as a statement of purpose before the two set in on each other as the synths referee for what builds to a satisfying squall.
The closer, the ruminative “Refinery Skies,” sets the scene with a foreboding synth intro before walking in the horns, a little drums, then a bit more drums, a bit more horns, finally finding a peaceful place to end the disc.
Is it free-jazz? Is it a party? At times it’s one; at times it’s another. It’s definitely worth checking out.