Gerald Cleaver: Signs

Gerald Cleaver: Signs cover

577 Records, 2020

Billed as jazz drummer Cleaver’s return to his Detroit roots, this LP of mesmerizing synth pieces is far from typical techno. Cleaver has played with AACM heavyweights Roscoe Mitchell, Muhal Richard Abrams, and Henry Threadgill. Here, he’s a one-man band, warping electronic instruments into off-kilter compositions. “Jackie’s Smiles” begins with a delicate cascade of notes. A staggered downtempo beat and triplet tones coalesce into a pleasing retro melody. All three movements of “Signs” feature heavy, irregular kick drum and atonal treble long notes, culminating in “Signs III,” a brooding storm of bass, beats, and drone.

On the B-side, “Amidst Curses” offers respite with Colundi-esque pure tones and polyrhythmic percussion patterns. Gradually the notes shift key, with the effect of one tune playing over another. At its start, “Blown” has echoes of gamelan. Bells reverberate, high pitches chime. A square synth line and speedy rattling beats call to mind blocky computer graphics of the past. “Tomasz” is a sweet, playful digestif of ethereal sounds evoking harp plucks, flute, and even voice. It’s been some time since I’ve found an album of experimental synthesizer work so beautifully inspired.

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