Long Island, NY progressive jazz quartet Flowering Branches, introduced themselves to the world back in March, with a rhythmically vibrant and melodically poised single that played out with compositional fluidity fitting of their group moniker. Now the forward-thinking foursome are letting their imaginations run to the far corners of the galaxy with new single, “Pendulum Heart.” Though it would be easy to assume guitarist and composer, Peter Iannacchino decided to embrace a stylistically drastic pivot for straightforward reasons like modernism to match the band’s progressive preferences or shock-value to keep listeners engaged and guessing in early days, the new piece actually germinated from a far more relaxed and natural touch of inspiration:
“The initial idea for this [piece] came from playing with a guitar pedal I kinda fell in love with that can do long delay times,” Iannacchino said.
Flowering Branches is:
Peter Iannacchino (Composer/Guitar)
Tye Granger (Tenor Sax)
Jon Francke (Bass)
Alex Kaufman (Drums)
What active guitarist – whether in a band or not – isn’t constantly on the lookout for new and exciting pedals and effects? While delay as an effect is nothing novel, it’s the kind of effect that leaves a lot of room for intriguing transformation and compositional arrangement. Iannacchino absolutely runs with this mentality, designating it the cornerstone element of “Pendulum Hearts.” The outer space-oriented mindset is apt, not only for the single’s cover art image but for the loose, improvisatory, intermittently unpredictable nature of the tones in the track. Right from the opening seconds, a motif of gently played guitar notes covering small intervals, eases the band into activity. Granger quietly mirrors the notes just heard, giving the tenor sax delicate and surreptitious introduction of its own. If this nebulous start seems to contradict the idea that “Pendulum Hearts” isn’t driven with an “avant-garde for avant-garde’s sake” philosophy, Iannacchino shares the method to his compositional madness:
“I wanted to find a way to use [the delay pedal] as a core element to a composition – something that almost couldn’t work without it. (I’m not a huge fan of throwing effects in just for the hell of it,)” he said.
“Rather, I want to hear something where every sound has a place and exists because it contributes to the life of the song. In the end, [the song] became something of an exploration into time, space and duality.”
The music does in fact give prominence to delay throughout its five minute run but as Iannacchino affirmed, it isn’t given erroneous purpose. The song projects a boldly lo-fi and vintage quality, as occasional crackles emerge among each note, while each instrument initially exudes a notably compressed tone – evoking thoughts of music played through old turntables. While this initial set of characteristics could easily prompt thoughts of warmth and nostalgia, the minor chords with a slower tempo instead give Pendulum Hearts the mysterious sheen of classic film noir. This aesthetic doesn’t last very long, as the sound stage of the music comes to open up before even hitting the first full minute but there’s no denying the hefty touch of intrigue Flowering Branches manage to quickly instill, propelling listeners forward to the rest of the piece.
This anticipation-fueled push is well validated. Not only does delay continue to shape and gently guide “Pendulum Hearts” along but Kaufman’s drums emerge with their own element of experimental character. Not leaning on the bouncy tone of deep, open, tom fills or the punch of a bold snare snap, Kaufman’s contributions play to the kit’s drier components – brush strokes, outer cymbal taps, and strategic movement around the snare drum for a variance in tone upon impact. The latter gives Kaufman more of a pitch-oriented role in the piece – something not always given as much association with drumming. This set of simultaneously complementary and contrasting timbres gives the piece additional creative dimension, which helps it avoid a potential slide into entirely ambient, sonically atmospheric music, due to excess stagnant tonality. (Not that ambient is a bad thing; just that it wouldn’t allow for much demonstration by the group as a whole.)
As before with “Blossom and Decay,” Flowering Branches gives everyone a chance to shine with the back half of the piece highlighting solos. It’s in these sections, like with Granger’s saxophone for instance, that the older, worn-in aesthetic spikes up again.Granger’s part sounds as though it’s being recorded a couple arms lengths or so back from the microphone. The result projects the feeling of classic jazz records made with the intention of live energy but the semi-controlled environment of a studio space. Francke’s bass playing and later feature is on point as well, though, here is where the beginning of a short later section presents one of the few hiccups about “Pendulum Hearts.”
The aural balance looses its footing on occasion – from the excessively raised dynamic of Francke’s bass, to the persistent hum of a “shhhh” style white noise (likely caused from the residual rustle of cymbal rolls or snare brushing) that peaks once the full band reconnects around a minute and a half from the ending. It’s at places like these that the slightly fuzziness draped over the instrumentation for the purposes of vintage quality, works against the band. It can be argued that the overall characteristic of the music near the finale is meant to channel a wall-of-sound style but the bottom line leaves that portion of the song feeling overwhelming on the ears and takes away from the discernible artistic charm cultivated up through that point. If anything, this isn’t so much a damnation on execution as it’s likely a preferential listening note but there’s something to be said channeling for old-fashioned audio muddying the waters of your band’s collective sound.
All in all, “Pendulum Hearts” definitively succeeds in spotlighting Iannacchino’s artistic intention and his purpose-driven conceptualization is highly appreciable. That said, what is likely most worth taking away from “Pendulum Hearts” isn’t so much the one song by itself as much as it’s a beginning of the solidification of Flowering Branches’ consistent capability and ambitions. Having two songs of vastly different sonic and emotional comportment, it remains to be seen what the band’s preferred performative approach is. If nothing else though, there’s no denying the excitingly wide swath of answers to that question that fall between what has emerged thus far.
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