Cognitive Dissonance is the second album from Twin Cities trio Framework, featuring guitarist Chris Olson, bassist Chris Bates and drummer Jay Epstein. The group actually spans many more years than one might imagine. Having been formed in 1997, their eponymous debut was released in 2009 and it has taken another twelve years to follow that up. But it’s worth the wait, with the trio’s exploratory ethos towards making music working particularly well.
Initially inspired by their shared love of ECM artists like the Keith Jarrett Trio, the Gateway Trio of John Abercrombie, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette, Framework sought to explore that sound and approach. Now more than two decades on, they have fused their own trio sound, and while guitarist Olson is the primary composer, it’s obvious that this is a collective group with an interconnected sound.
Recorded in late summer 2020, while the world was shutting down, the trio were acutely aware of what was happening in their city, with the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests. During the recording sessions, the cerebral compositions took on a more intimate feel, with the trio’s joy of performing together juxtaposed against a backdrop of hurt and anger at what had happened in their own backyard.
Many of the tunes have a quietly edgy, yet lovely, open feel to them, with some great interplay from all three band members. The atmospheric “New Anthem” was inspired by the incompetent singing of Star Spangled Banner at a Trump rally, and its dissonant reworking of the anthem suggests a land that’s broken, rather than a land for the free and brave. “Hitchens” is a tune that flows beautifully, allowing the trio to let go and fly where the music takes them. The thoughtful “Anyway” is followed by the Scofield-esque “Pre-Conceived Notion”, with Olson’s bright acoustic guitar played in inspiring fashion. “Relapse” is marked by a repeated motif that represents the human tendency to keep falling into the same bad behaviours. I love the melancholic feel to the tune “Dawkins”, with bassist Bates taking the lead melody. The bluesy “Bluetrois” is fresh and toe-tapping, with some great interaction between the trio. The title of the track “Changes we can believe in” was penned in 2008 and was inspired by Barrack Obama’s similarly worded presidential campaign. There’s a clear message of hope contained within the piece. “Valentine” is a thrillingly lyrical piece, a love letter for the lonely. “Tortured Thoughts” captures an unease that runs through much of the album, summing up the frustration caused by the cognitive dissonance of world leaders and many of their followers.
While the band didn’t set out to record a political record, the nature of the music and the time during which it was recorded seems to have done just that. And while the trio holds no grand illusions that music is the answer to these problems, they do believe that music is a unifying and healing force. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying “here here” to that.