Devin Drobka Trio ‘Resorts’ 2LP (Shifting Paradigm) 3/5

Avant-garde composer and percussionist Devin Drobka’s latest release, “Resorts”, is in essence as much an ambient record as it is a jazz record. Written over two years, during a tumultuous period in the composer’s life, the whole album sounds very personal, transient even. The music seems to reflect a moment in time for Drobka, closely linked to the unfolding events in his life, which resulted in the end of his relationship.

Drobka enlisted longtime friends, pianist Matt Blair and bassist Aaron Darrell, to help create music out of what he was feeling. Through this cathartic collaboration, the three musicians built from the space they shared and “Resorts” came to life. Listening to this album, it’s obvious to me that the trio share an empathetic relationship. This comes over very clearly on the recording, with an intuitive and organic feel emanating from the three friends and musicians. A fruitful relationship all-round one would surmise.

It’s refreshing to hear a trio unafraid of taking a few risks. Some tracks on the album sound measured, others freer, yet there are always points of interest and exploration as the threesome fearlessly inquire and probe, plucking the meat off the bones of emotions that surface naturally, linking the eight tracks together. There’s also a keen duality exhibited in the trio’s music, mirroring human life itself; patience/ impatience, permanence/ impermanence, complete/incomplete, secure/ insecure… and endlessly so on and so on.

Originally involved in Milwaukee’s punk and metal scenes, Drobka’s desire to regularly venture into the unknown developed his fascination for jazz and improvised music. He’s worked with visual artists and dancers as well as musicians from different styles ranging from hip hop to noise to folk to indie pop. His varied musical background is not a surprise, if like me, you are listening to his music for the first time through this album. There’s a sense that his musical creations are going to be a part of him regardless of any genre or style that people might expect to hear, and I like that very much. Surely that’s the nature of a true artist. “I create in order to connect us all and remind us that we are here,” Drobka says. “Nothing more and nothing less – just the chance to be really aware of what we are engaging in by entering a space together and truly listening to one another. This album and set of songs is about the deep change and joy we can experience every day, and the resorts we take refuge in order to grow and become loving beings”.

Drobka’s compositions for “Resorts” began as voice memo sketches, alone, at home, as home was being redefined. And while the gorgeous sound of the album will delight audiophiles, the spirit of the record is still very much in line with those first demos. Intimate moments are captured perfectly, involving the listener in the atmosphere and feeling of the music. “Rims” is dark, deep, foreboding and contemplative. The piano motif repeats (a common theme throughout the album), conversational, questioning, imploring the drums and bass to answer. “Teeter” (on the brink maybe?), quietly consumes an air of quiet edginess, surrounding itself with a soft blanket of cosiness that one dare not disturb. The more ambient “Bounce”, awash with cymbal roles and bowed bass, continues in the same vein, with “Soon” suggesting an uplift in the mood as the writer peeks out from beneath his blanket to face the world around him. “1000” is like the nervous start of a brand new journey, hesitant yet resolute. “Box Invention, Parts 1, 2 & 3) detail the unabashed exhilarance of venturing out into a brave new world. The dance of passion for life and new experience in an almost uncontrollably childlike journey of discovery. And what the listener does get from this album, is a sense of total involvement, as I find myself, willing or not, immersed in the musical story-telling of Drobka and co.

Mike Gates