Hu Vibrational is Adam Rudolph’s mad army of percussionists. They are six members strong and use a dizzying array of toys to produce their sounds such as the udu, the bata, the sogo, the rebolo, the gankogoui, the caxixi, and a whole bunch of other words you probably need to look up through Google images. For The Epic Botanical Beat Suite, their fourth album together, Rudolph and company signed up with Bill Laswell’s Method of Defiance label and recorded the music in the bassist’s Orange Sound Studio. In addition to the six members of Hu Vibrational, four other musicians stop by to add shading additional shading. Through all the clang and bang, The Epic Botanical Beat Suite emerges from the heap a tipsy collidescope of sound. Not unlike the stoned-looking cat on the album’s cover, you can work yourself into a strange euphoria where contradicting elements like rhythmic madness, spacey sounds, and a cool feeling of arithmetic interlock combine to both soothe and stimulate. If you remain confused, just look at the cat and go with your gut.
Rudolph and Hu Vibrational refer to what they do as “Boonghee Music”, connecting “links between African, jazz music and avant-garde hip-hop.” It’s not a guarantee that all of those genres will pop into your head at some point or another while immersing yourself in The Epic Botanical Beat Suite. If anything, Hu Vibrational are being pretty narrow in their self-description. “Soma” recalls Hassell and Eno and “Kwa-Shi” touches on a level of funk that avant-garde hip-hop, for all its bold moves, rarely touches. The vocal chants of “Hikuli” are a clear indicator that he have now left the North American continent, setting sail for a land that uses music to communally exorcise what needs exorcising. Rather than put forth too much effort by performing in too many styles, Hu Vibrational operates in the little pockets between the styles. What is jazzy is also worldly. Worldly is also funky. Funky can be avant-garde and avant-garde can be jazzy — and so on.
With four special guests contributing skills of the non-percussive variety, The Epic Botanical Beat Suite could have collapsed from its own weight. Yet the presence of upwards to ten musicians on any given track never feels that crowded. Busy, yes, but never crowded. Laswell contributes his distinctive bass while Elvind Aarset lets rip a scorching guitar. Steve Gorn’s bansuri flute blends in well with the ensemble’s African slant (though the instrument comes from a different continent) while Alex Marcelo’s electric piano would appear out of place based on sight alone. Shut your eyes and it’s as though the fender Rhodes and polyrhythmic ensembles were supposed to go together.
The spectral aspect of The Epic Botanical Beat Suite comes about very naturally. It doesn’t feel like Rudolph, the producers, or Hu Vibrational smacked their heads against a wall in order to make a percussion-driven album sound appealing. Sometimes just the very ease of an art form can be its selling point. Fortunately, this music gives you a bunch of other fun bits to chew on as it goes down.