One of the wilder musical episodes this writer has heard in 2018 gets going a little more than three minutes into “Bovicidal,” the opening track on a new album by guitarist Brandon Seabrook’s eponymous trio. As double-bassist Henry Fraser sets up a steady pulse, the leader solos over top, moving from tight, twitchy, spasm-like phrases to sharp, stabbing chords, while cellist Daniel Levin adds his rough, sawing bow work. Like much of this record, aptly titled Convulsionaries, the passage sounds like some sort of rogue hybrid of chamber music and jazz, as though three virtuosos at an elite music school had secretly gathered in a practice room late at night to explore their most outré ideas.
Seabrook has a well-documented history of this sort of thing. During the past decade or so, the fiercely dextrous New York musician has launched a number of bands combining serious chops with manic intensity and a left-field compositional vision: the prog-punk power trio Seabrook Power Plant, in which the leader can often be heard shredding on banjo; pulverizing art-metal group Needle Driver; and the deeply peculiar Die Trommel Fatale, which suggests Mike Patton’s Fantômas band filtered through modernist classical and noise.
Convulsionaries stands apart from the aforementioned projects in one key way: There’s no drums. “Get the drums out, instantly everything’s better,” the guitarist joked recently on clarinetist Jeremiah Cymerman’s 5049 Podcast. If anything, the move makes Seabrook’s music sound all the weirder. Drums can have the effect of anchoring a group in a familiar genre, but on this record, the intensely thorny written passages and gritty improv tangles fly at the listener in disconcertingly stark fashion. The instrumentation also invites in the extensive use of negative space and sparse, low-volume playing, as heard on a track like “Vulgar Mortals.” (Another 2018 release, Stomiidae, also features Seabrook and Levin in a drummer-less trio context, this time improvising freely with saxophonist Chris Pitsiokos.) If you’ve never heard Seabrook’s music before, start with Convulsionaries for maximum disorientation.