A Beacon of Musical Sincerity
The debut release of Portland-based trombonist, James Powers, is a beacon of musical sincerity when the world is asking for truth to be told. Damnation of Memory, as a whole, does its own thing, from the choice of instrumentation, to the liberal use of electronics inseparable from the voice of the acoustic trombone, to the hard-hitting spoken word. Powers sidesteps the expectations of what a “debut jazz album” should sound like, opting instead to make a stripped down, freewheeling funk record with a palpable punk rock ethos. The first three notes of the album announce to the listener that there will be no apologies..
The table is set once the bass and drums establish the groove of “Stand Up Guy,” the introductory track of the record. And less than fifteen seconds in, we hear the leader emerge with the theme. Not with the trombone tone of jazz greats like Curtis Fuller, J.J. Johnson, or Jack Teagarden, but with a sound that resembles Rage Against the Machne’s guitarist, Tom Morello smashed into a Daft Punk synthesizer and set on fire with the heat of Grachan Moncur III’s records from 1960s.
The use of effects on the sound of the trombone is plentiful but there are moments where Powers’s tone is unmodified and he sings beautifully with a full, rich, and dark sound. This is evident on the title track. After an ominous hip-hop-inspired groove emanates from the rhythm section, Powers enters slyly with some heavily affected sound to create atmosphere. It all builds to a climactic break, and Powers presents the theme with the spirit of a town crier.
The introduction to “Ride the Onion Garden with Us and Fly” might catch some listeners by surprise. The title is chanted rhythmically, adding a member of the trio with each pass, the final pass ending with a change in inflection that has shades of hip-hop legend, Del the Funky Homosapien. But then it is followed immediately by a distorted bass groove similar to some early Red Hot Chili Peppers tracks backed by some Dillah-like trickery on the drums. Some odd-metered sections are peppered in, and executed with precision, which demonstrate, these musicians are not fooling around. This is serious, but it is also obviously very fun.
The only tune that was not composed by Powers is a song from the spiritual tradition, “Deep River”. JP3 presents this beautifully by slowly meandering through the melody with a heartfelt treatment, and sensitive dynamic levels. Powers’s use of the plunger mute captures the melody in a way a singer might bellow it. A strict pulse never really emerges from the rendition, which poetically paints the picture of a wide, ambling river.
“Symbology” is a fitting end to the six track album, because it bears out so much of what has been developing throughout the work. Hip-hop influences that have bubbling beneath come to full boil when David Barber makes an appearance in a role that some might call rap, others spoken word, but Powers has opted to call it “vocals.” The character and drive of the solo section is amplified by Barber’s audible reactions, who seems to have gone from front man to hype man in the blink of an eye.
Trombonist James Powers has been connected to creative music his whole life. A third generation musician who’s made his home in many styles of music, he’s always sought to meld disparate influences together. With this new release, he hopes to create various evocative improvisational soundscapes sharing funk based rhythms and a punk rock ethos. Powers is largely self taught, and his unique artistic voice reflects this, though that’s not to say he’s uneducated, having been mentored by and shared the bandstand with a number of world-class musicians. In addition to JP-3, James can be heard with his rock trio REACTOR, March Fourth, Buddy Jay’s Jamaican Jazz Band, and The Frank Irwin Quintet amongst many other projects.
Multi-instrumentalist and Portland native, Machado Mijiga, wears many hats, both literally and metaphorically. Classically-trained, jazz-weathered, and eclectically inclined, Mijiga left the proverbial creative “box” at a very early age, with access to many instruments and a diverse musical background brought about by an intercultural heritage. Mijiga is a musical polymath; composer, producer, bandleader, educator, gear fanatic, and audio engineer, to name a few. Authenticity and uniquity assume the locus of Mijiga’s artistic identity. Self-expression is the prime directive, and the medium of choice changes like the weather.
Bassist, Matthew Holmes, was born in Portland, Oregon and his practice of the bass is a connection and blend of styles and lessons learned from his peers and mentors, musicians and non-musicians alike. He has supported the Portland scene in bands like Illegal Son, Haley Heynderickx, Toothbone, and Far Out West. Now, he balances a traveling life of playing the bass and working on watershed restoration and biology. You can often tell how a musician plays before you hear them play, and you can tell how Holmes plays by how he lives and supports his peers. Some jellyfish live forever. However, with his limited span on this rock, Holmes chooses to decorate the time he inhabits with bass tones reminiscent of those experienced in the womb, the most secure place he has ever been. Matthew brings the low tones to JP-3!
Stand Up Guy (10:28)
Damnation of Memory (9:18)
Ride the Onion Garden with Us and Fly (7:05)
Victoria Woodhull (9:16)
Deep River (7:13)
James Powers – Trombone
Matthew Holmes – Electric Bass
Machado Mijiga – Drums
David Barber – Vocals (track 6)
All songs except track 5 composed by James Powers
Recorded at The Map Room on January 25th and 26th 2020 by Nathaiel Stoll
Mixed by Nathaniel Stoll
Mastered by Justin Phelps
Executive Producer: Ryan Meagher
Special thanks to Cart Nelson, David Williams, Alan Jones, Michael Vlatkovich
Dedicated to Joyce Swarn, Hank Swarn and Andre St James