Warren Walker
Photo: Courtesy of Kyudo Records via Bandcamp

Jazz Saxophonist Warren Walker Explores the Modular Synthesizer on ‘(n)Traverse Vol. 1’

Saxophonist Warren Walker unbuckles his modern jazz seat belt to hitch a ride on his modular synthesizer on (n)Traverse Vol. 1.

(n)Traverse Vol. 1
Warren Walker
Kyudo Records
28 May 2021

Contemporary jazz saxophonist Warren Walker is already a member of two unorthodox bands, the Kandinsky Effect and OddAtlas. So when he goes it alone on a solo venture, the listener can’t expect anything less experimental. Walker harnesses the power of the modular synthesizer on (n)Traverse Vol. 1, using it to manipulate the sound of his horn as well as conjuring the rhythms and backgrounds.

Made of 17 tracks covering 38 minutes, this collection plays out like a soundtrack full of short, scene-setting cues mixed with a handful of centerpieces that make it past the three-minute park. This is most certainly not dance music. It’s electronic music for turning off the lights, turning off your phone, and sitting cross-legged in the middle of the room while laser-projected shapes dance on the walls in front of your eyes until you swear one of them is trying to talk to you.

Many of these miniatures adorn people’s names. We’ve got “Arthur”, “Cyrille”, “Faye”, “Phil”, “Eddie”, “Antonin”, and “Isabel” just to name a few. The last one mentioned finishes the album rather abruptly. There are several times (n)Traverse Vol. 1 will stop or change on a dime, pointing to the conclusion that it should be consumed as a whole rather than a track here or there on shuffle. Treat it as a free-form poem that flows from top to bottom rather than any kind of narrative.

The first track, appropriately named “(n)Ter” casts all kinds of blips and bleeps into a deep, cavernous echo. Neither major nor minor, this sets the scene in under two minutes. “Agni” carries the unmistakable sound of a saxophone into digital waters rippling with decaying delays and vocal samples sped up and played backward. If the beat that propels “Shai” has anything in common with beats heard inside dance clubs, it’s canceled out by the accidental ramshackle rhythm of “Arthur.”

Released online ahead of the entire album, “Faye” takes more time to establish its eerie atmosphere than most other pieces. The melody line stutters, the beats stutter, and static crackles steadily for over three minutes. Lengthier by over a minute, “Francesco” devotes more time to brewing tension with noteless see-saw samples and simmering synth patterns that threaten to reach a boil. “Eddie” is a close cousin to both, swimming in mysterious ambiance yet building to something that might topple the delicate sound.

When making a collection of abstract electronic music, it’s tempting to directly aim for the doom and gloom sound that bridged synthpop to industrial music in the ’90s. It’s also just as easy to fall into the EDM trap, even if you’re opting for the poorly-named genre IDM (intelligence dance music). With (n)Traverse Vol. 1, Warren Walker has managed to sidestep both outcomes and make something neither dark nor bright. It’s as if he turned on the machines, stepped back, and let the synthesizers take the music to some aloof place where no one is keeping track of the key signature, and no one is counting the bars. (After reviewing I Dream of Wires, I’m convinced that some artists do this anyway). Even though jazz is considered to be one of the ultimate musical vehicles for musical expression, Warren Walker has found a way to make music for music’s sake.

RATING 7 / 10
PopMatters