Guitarist Brandon Seabrook posits his singular playing in a dynamic new context

Brandonn Seabrook Trio (Daniel Levin, Seabrook, Henry Fraser), photo: Richard Lenz

Brandonn Seabrook Trio (Daniel Levin, Seabrook, Henry Fraser), photo: Richard Lenz

I've been a committed admirer of Brandon Seabrook's music for a decade now, going back to the sui generis debut of his wiggy power trio Seabrook Power Plant. His frequently spastic but remarkably precise electric guitar sound has presided over a number of disparate projects since then--to say nothing of simpatico efforts as sideman in numerous contexts, whether the serene American-tweaked jazz of Jeremy Udden or the modern klezmer of Paul Brody's Sadawi--all of them fueled by barely contained manic energy melding the heft of metal, the rigor of prog, and the propulsion of funk, in varying degrees. Nearly all of his music has been marked by an unstinting rhythmic presence, which is what makes his recently released Convulsionaries (Astral Spirits) stand out within his expanding discography. With the exception of 2014 solo album Sylphid Vitalizers (New Atlantis), it's his first recording without a drummer.

But the trio--with cellist Daniel Levin and bassist Henry Fraser--prove that percussion is hardly a requirement to create music of crushing velocity and movement, and in some ways the lack of drums sheds a fresh light on the kinetic drive. There's an appealing tension in the sound forged by Seabrook's brittle electric machinations and the deep acoustic friction of his partners. The musicians engage in a constant dialogue, moving from tightly coiled unison passages, extended improvised duos cleaving against composed patterns, and, occasional solo work. On the opening track "Bovicidal" whiplash-fast contrapuntal action explodes out of the gate, with wildly jagged shapes, stop-start blinks, and compactly wound lines zigzagging breathlessly, before things suddenly pull apart and Seabrook's guitar blossoms from hyper-active scratching and picking with a billowy arpeggio. That's followed by increasingly fraught cello bowing while Fraser holds down a furious vamp; it suggests a calm that proves illusory. The music never veers toward any serious kind of serenity.

Levin and Fraser produce an impressively large sound, scampering around the guitarist's kinetic activity like buzzing insects that just happen to seem like locomotives. On the album's second track, "Groping at a Breakthrough," which you can check out below, the trio engages in a thrilling ebb-and-flow, modulating intensity, volume, and producing varied tempos within any given bar that makes the music seem to wobble drunkenly only to dramatically snap back into line, with Seabrook dropping surprisingly little rock 'n' roll licks that make it seem Chuck Berry has butted in for a millisecond. Seabrook's sound in instantly recognizable, but with this new combo he's created a kind of improvisational chamber prog that suggests plenty of future possibilities.

The trio has just embarked on a short US tour—the dates are below.


October 3 - Oberlin Conservatory, Oberlin, OH

October 4- Elastic Arts, Chicago, IL

October 5- University of Illinois Urbana- Champaign, IL

October 6- Shlafly Tap Room, St. Louis, MI

October 7- University of Kentucky's Niles Gallery, Lexington, KY

October 8- Bastion, Nashville, TN

October 9- Revolve, Asheville, NC

October 10- Neptunes Parlour, Raleigh, NC

Today’s playlist:


Wolfgang Rihm, Et Lux (ECM)

Cadentia Nova Danica, August 1966 Jazzhus Montmartre (Storyville)

Osvaldo Coluccino, Atto (Another Timbre)

Driftmachine, Colliding Contours (Umor Rex)

Jessica Moss, Pools of Light (Constellation)