Devin Brahja Waldman is a New York saxophonist, drummer, synthesizer player and composer who has performed with Patti Smith, William Parker, Nadah El Shazly, Malcolm Mooney, Thurston Moore, Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Charles Hayward, Mette Rasmussen and Yoshiko Chuma.
He leads the band BRAHJA. BRAHJA have been playing, in one form or another, since 2008 and is currently made up of 10 musicians coming out of Montreal, New York City, Washington D.C. and Chicago; the core being Waldman, Isis Giraldo (piano, synthesizer, voice), Damon Shadrach Hankoff (organ, piano, synthesizer), Martin Heslop (acoustic bass) and Daniel Gélinas (drums, synthesizer).
Waldman says of the new 8-track release, “These songs mostly deal with the purging of uninvited darkness. Some kind of cure for some kind of poison. Some kind of death for some kind of renewal. I hope you can derive meaning and joy from this music. With sincere gratitude, Devin Brahja Waldman.”
Those first 3 paragraphs suggest that we’re probably not in for some formulaic musical ride. Add to them the knowledge that this release is on the RR GEMS label, the Estonian home of all things free and uplifting, and you can be 100% certain we’re about to experience something a bit, well, different.
Deep throbbing, guttural swells and cascading cymbal washes feed an expectant, charged atmosphere that is graced and soothed by Waldman’s divine alto sax motif and caressing vocal layers. Occasional, less benign screeches interrupt the divinity and the track begins a disconcerting and dizzying oscillation into something more dark and airless. “In The Mess” is extraordinary – it sucks you in, softens you up and then, when you’re deeply engaged and unable to escape, it prods at your anxieties leaving you ruminative and unnerved.
Anxieties are allayed by “Keepers”. It has a Tubular Bells/Profondo Rosso intro that’s subjugated by a very flabby snare, a lazy, laconic Waldman and a fat, loungin’ bassline. A group vocal mantra, that you will not escape from, picks up the bass motif and floats above all, inviting introspection or something more transcendental. Deeply pacifying and optimistic.
Unexpectedly, “Qwikness” riffs and grooves. All hip blues, cop drama with punchy, trebly guitar (Afro-surf!) and a light, airy wind pattern that whisks you to the coastal road. Mobilising and boding and the only track that escapes the BRAHJA claustrophobia. “Just Passing Thru” initially extends that cool vibe then opens up into a free Waldman spirit warble and that BRAHJA trademark glow (gentle vocal wash + cymbal glances + subtle layers of echoey, reverberating magic dust) before resolving with a broken beat.
“Ineffable Intro” can’t be described (lolz) but, if pushed to, it’s the perfect hypnotherapy space. “Medicine Women” is reticent, pensive, stuck or calming, numbing, soothing. It’s a sluggish beat, a meandrous sax and layers of spiritual cleansing and healing. A truly beautiful 11 minutes 43 seconds that can shift your mood and allow you to alter your perspective.
“Return Of The Good Enemy” is surprising. A plodding shoe-gazing rhythm, sprinkled angular piano and a simple spacey sax line leads to harp-like cascades and a sense of confinement. The final track, “Welcome to Wohlom”, is a dense, brooding, cymbal-first, whispering melancholy, moaning to be set free.
I’m not sure I’ve heard anything like this on a single album before. It’s quite an extraordinary piece of work. It is blessed with much influence but always sounds unique; it’s entirely free but never hard work; it troubles and purges, questions and resolves, excites and calms, mourns and uplifts. It’s outside and inside. It portends and is claustrophobic yet it glistens and optimistically reflects.
As you can probably tell, I’m more than a little blown away by this album. And, just as Devin Brahja Waldman hoped…I will continue to derive meaning and great joy from this music; with the sincerest gratitude.