Saxophonist Travis Laplante is a member of the avant-jazz groups Little Women and Battle Trance, but neither of those projects will prepare you for the likes of Wild Tapestry, a half-hour composition that gleefully lives up to its name. Performed at the Yellow Barn Chamber Music Festival in Vermont, this live recording mixes a little bit of the surrounding weather into the final product.
Laplante formed a unique nonet for the occasion, featuring himself, flutist Antonina Styczen, trumpeter Ansel Norris, trombonist Oliver Barrett, guitarist Steve Mackey, harpist Charles Overton, bassist Marcus Elliott Gaved, and percussionists Eduardo Leandro and Matthew Overbay. That’s quite a few people, and “Wild Tapestry” is a long piece, but it remains engaging the whole way through. It’s never dull and never pretentious. How Laplante pulled it off will be difficult to ascertain, but we can still try.
After someone exhales noisily through their horn, Styczen plays an elastic melody figure that snaps back on the offbeat while Leandro and Overbay play a synchronized beat that could be composed or ad-libbed. Gaved enters, but not with a walking figure. Instead, he grabs a note, holds it, then digs down just a little deeper before returning to a different sustained note up top. Styczen is then joined by more wind instruments that give her a fuller sky for fluttering and floating. As the percussion takes intermittent breaks, Styczen and Laplante sound like they’re playing 12-tone Stravinsky before coming to an abrupt halt with the rest of the ensemble.
It’s at this point that “Wild Tapestry” starts to take on a late-John Zorn mysticism with little more than vibes and harp creating a utopian paradise. Styczen and Laplante continue to play a melodic figure that presents a few harmonic challenges that the vibes and harp successfully resist. When the percussion returns to the hard attack of the piece’s beginnings, Norris and Barrett lead the charge with two melodies. It’s a solid reminder that, with just two horns being played, brass instruments can really carry. Then we hear the first rainmaker.
How much Laplante knew about the area’s crappy forecast versus how much influence the rainmaker was to have on “Wild Tapestry” beforehand isn’t clear. “Immediately before the concert. a powerful storm fell upon the area, and the sound of the rain became an integral part of the performance,” states the Out of Our Heads press release. “At the end of the piece, musicians are called to open all the doors to the concert hall and circle the perimeter of the audience while sounding special rainmakers.” Before getting to the point where music and nature meld into one, there’s still quite a bit of music to enjoy, particularly Laplante’s rapid triplets that set the stage for Mackey’s plucked harmonics coupled with a delayed effect that then radiates into feedback. Laplante circular-breathes his way into this fog of noise, carrying the burden of providing ambience for a while.
The middle of “Wild Tapestry” settles into a pastoral swap full of noise, a tuneful saxophone solo, and some foreboding chords assembled in the background. Norris’ trumpet pulls them out of that strange place and puts them in another transitional movement that is rhythmically exciting while remaining harmonically tense. “Wild Tapestry” has at least two or three more sizable shifts to power through before the listener hears the surrounding rain and the enthusiastic applause from an appropriately appreciative audience.
The overall moods keep changing, but pinning a genre name to what Laplante and company are performing is entirely out of the question. Jazz and classical feel like the go-to tags for a chamber ensemble led by a saxophone player, but neither of those seems to fit well with what’s going on here. Perhaps the best way to talk about Wild Tapestry is to put it in non-musical terms; the gymnastic, soaring, and anxious moments and the soundtrack to the lush gardens of the gods moments. However you choose to identify with it, Wild Tapestry is 30 minutes of heavily abstract instrumental music that, at the very least, will not bore you. At the very most, it will take its rightful place in your top releases for the year.