It’s interesting to ponder on what kind of music Miles Davis would be making today if he were alive. Perhaps the latest effort, Absurd in the Anthropocene from widely hailed L.A. -based prolific trumpeter, composer, and producer Dan Rosenboom provides one possible answer to that unanswerable question. While Rosenboom often leads his own quintet or septet, you’ll quickly note that this bears none of those monikers. This is clearly abstract musicianship and experimentation that involves multiple players in configurations that the piece calls for. It’s wildly inventive, improvisational music that defies easy categorization such as jazz-rock fusion, electronica, or progressive jazz. It is all of those and more.
Rosenboom’s inspirations certainly include Miles and visionaries like Ornette Coleman and Frank Zappa as well as masters of chaotic, adventurous sound such as Soundgarden and Squarepusher. The title alone provides clues, referring to the complicated and surreal times we now live in. Rosenboom calls his response to this kind of world “reflectively critical yet frenetically joyous.” Expanding on that thought, he says, What I’m trying to express is that through intelligent thought and spiritual inquiry, there is a way forward culturally that can result in joy…I’ve always like a sense of abstractness and ambiguity in art. That’s one of the benefits of addressing the complicated subject matter in a non-lyrical framework – you basically have a title to frame your concept, and then people can interpret the sound however they’d like. It gives the audience a participatory role in the experience, as well.”
Rosenboom taps numerous kindred spirits including producer and keyboard master Jeff Babko, legendary drummers Vinnie Colaiuta, Gary Novak, and Zach Danziger, renowned bassists Jimmy Johnson, Tim Lefebvre and Jerry Watts Jr., Rosenboom’s longtime collaborator Gavin Templeton and jazz icon David Binney on saxophones, guitarists Tim Conley, Alexander Noice, and Jake Vossler, electronics wizard Troy Zeigler, and horn-playing colleagues Brian Walsh, Ryan Dragon, Juliane Gralle, and Javier Gonzalez. In various lineups, the disc’s eleven tracks run for a generous 65 minutes.
While many of the tracks such as the single “Nebulounge” feature a core unit of Babko, Danziger, and Templeton, one needs to examine the jacket carefully to see who is contributing on each one. Notably, “Apes in the Rapture” involves a larger ensemble including masterful drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and a horn section that includes saxophonists Templeton, Binney and Walsh, with Gonzales, and trombonists Dragon and Gralle. The epic closer “Drowning on the High Ground” also has the same rhythm section of Colaiuta (drums) with Jimmy Johnson (bass) as well as guitarists Noice and Vossler. The only other track with guitar is the much shorter, ominously psychedelic “Lemonade,” featuring Tim Conley. Rosenboom’s trumpet tone is robust, expansive and highly lyrical amidst what sometimes sounds chaotic and dissonant; at others ethereal and Miles-like such as “Still.” He plays free jazz in the style of Ornette and Don Cherry on “Helioptery X,” one where, like on “Nebulounge,” where Zanziger’s drumming prowess is showcased.
Rosenboom is at the forefront of one of today’s most creative music scenes, along with many other artists in Los Angeles. Rosenboom entered this scene in the mid-2000s. At that time he was working closely with LA icon Vinny Golia, and with his own Balkan jazz-rock group PLOTZ, and improv band DR. MiNT, as well as many other projects. He has since earned his reputation for boundary-pushing projects and a prolific work ethic, having produced more than 25 albums under his name and with various bands. One that stands out is his work with his protest band, Burning Ghosts, that tackles socio-political concerns head-on. A rousing cross-section between experimental jazz, punk, and metal, the band was formed in 2015, in response to the police killing of unarmed black men and many other salient social and political issues. To date, they have released four albums, one of which was picked up by John Zorn’s iconic Tzadik label.
Equally, at home in both improvised and classical music, Rosenboom’s vision is as wide-ranging as any. He focuses not on the constraints of the genre but is constantly seeking unusual groves, melodies, harmonies, textures, and sounds. He melds the acoustic with the electronic. Dive in for an immersive experience. Music rarely gets more explorative than this.