It’d be easy to say that this one came out of nowhere, but to be fair, Ava Mendoza’s been having an amazing run of late. One of the highlights of William Parker’s Mayan Space Station (2021), touring with Bill Orcutt’s Guitar Quartet earlier this year, and with innumerable solo and collaborative releases, the guitarist has been putting her imprint on jazz, prog, and psych for a good swath of time now. 2023 sees her connect with longtime friend Devin Hoff (Xiu Xiu, Psychic Temple, Julia Holter) and the pair have concocted a ferocious album that gnaws on the notions of jazz, fusion, and prog with a heavy dose of punk sweat. Along with James Brandon Lewis and Ches Smith on sax and drums respectively, Echolocation emerges as one of the year’s most affecting jazz-rock releases.
Lewis’ sax lights up the record, laying into the listener with an ultraviolet intensity that sears its intonation into a few layers of skin and synapse. He often spars with Mendoza’s equally turbulent guitars. Her playing is sinewy, but sharp, snapping through the bone and carving out a tattoo of its tumult on the listener with each new song. The band lets dissonance chew at their sound, but they’re not immune to moments of groove — muscular, menacing, rusted grooves that move the listener but take a pint of blood and a pound of flesh on their way out of the speakers. Jazz-rock can sometimes get a maligned tag, having been dragged by purists through the ‘80s and ‘90s, but that’s all bullshit posturing anyhow. This is the raw nerve of what jazz-rock was meant to be, an album that’s visceral and as vital as anything hitting the speakers in ’23.
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