So the backstory on this one has to do with Fox rigging up software (via Sunhouse) that reacts to to his drumming, breathing the life from his motion into virtual instrumentation. Frankly, we’re pretty much all out of our depth on the physics here, but the emotional response is much further reaching and harder felt. The Gradual Progression nods to the free flowing works of Don Cherry and Pharoah Sanders while tugging at the the slightly more reigned moments of Sun Ra, but Fox doesn’t merely paint by erratic numbers in the shades of his heroes – he updates the free jazz workbook with a few moves that are distinctly his own.
Where “Catching an L” hums with the same sax energy that would be roundly reminiscent of another age of dissocitative jazz, Fox’s beats crunch with a sound that plays to his post-rock connections, bludgeoning with precision and bite. And that song actually stands as an outlier of defined pound among an album riddled with drumstick bullet holes and cascades of rhythmic ripple that fling themselves far afield of anything that feels moored to solid ground in the stream of consciousness. Fox’s pieces aren’t just complicated drum primers for NYU undergrads looking to notch their way into a teacher’s field of vision. Fox wields rhythm and his associated action painted tones with a scientists aim and an artist’s heart.
The album is dazzlingly complex, but never suffers from feeling weighted down in technology. Far from it, the album’s synth tones breath with wonder worthy of OMNI documentaries, the percussion – even when electronically generated – tumbles in ecstatic bursts that feel alive with human emotion, struggling to contain the joy and pain that Fox channels to his chosen surface. In The Gradual Procession, Fox has created a modern mountain of emotional work that transcends the touchy tags of free jazz and experimental electronic to become simply essential listening.
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