The New Drum n’ Bass
Since emerging on the avant-garde scene in the late 1990s, tubaist Tom Heasley has been steadfastly proving that there’s as much unmined potential with this deep-toned and often unfairly pigeonholed brass instrument as with any other. Still, it may challenge some to believe that this cumbersome instrument has the potential for music of unparalleled beauty, but Heasley proves just that on Passages, his fourth release as a leader and first teaming him with drummer Toss Panos. More closely affiliated with the rock, pop and fusion worlds, Panos proves himself an equally broad-minded partner on five largely improvised pieces, recorded over two nights at Tossimo’s in North Hollywood.
Utilizing loops and electronics to enhance his instrument, and occasionally his voice, Heasley creates a sound that can only be described as other-worldly. There are times when it’s easy to identify his instrument as a tuba, but just as often Heasley finds ways to turn his instrument into a sonic controller sounding nothing like its source. If guitarists can transform their instruments beyond all recognition, then why not tuba? Panos’ kit is more readily discernable, but in a musical context that’s less about groove and more about color and texture, he proves capable of far more than his stylistically broad but generally more rhythm-focused discography demonstrates.
That’s not to say there aren’t defined rhythms on Passages, but they’re often absorbed by Heasley’s multilayered, multifaceted ambience. Soft melodic passages juxtapose with periods of greater extremes, with the tubaist fashioning snaking lines that range from low, visceral notes, more felt than heard, to higher register tones that, at times, sound almost like an Alpine horn.
Ranging from ten to nearly twenty-five minutes in length, Heasley and Panos’ improvisations evolve slowly, covering considerable territory. Unpredictable, but somehow ultimately inevitable, they range from the hauntingly ethereal melodism of “Elegy for Philip Berrigan” to the more rhythmically charged “Cliffs of Mohor,” where Panos’ delicately propulsive kit work creates the structure around which Heasley creates his rich aural soundscape.
Passages will appeal to fans of the Thirsty Ear Blue Series, and of Norway’s Rune Grammofon and Jazzland labels, where seamless integration of technology with traditional instruments is de rigueur, as is the belief that rules are made to be broken. With a clear conceptual focus that still retains an intrepid sense of discovery and wonderment, Passages dissolves all boundaries of sound, style and instrumental prejudice.
Written for ABLX by: John Kelman