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Spirits Burning — Evolution Ritual
(Bandcamp Noh Poetry NPR020, 2021, CD / DL)

by Jeff Melton, Published 2022-12-21

Evolution Ritual Cover art

Northern California based band Spirits Burning has always been one of those recording projects with an identity in flux (depending on the mood and combination of players). Leader and muse Don Falcone continues to surprise as he strives to blend lines between composition and passionate improv. It distinctly helps if you have deep reservoir of various prog alumni extending from Hawkwind associations to those in the Cuneiform label camp (including the Muffins and Birdsongs of the Mesozoic). Where the listener is caught unawares is cohesion between pieces through string accompaniment through the 17 tracks. Graham Smith, Darryl Way, and Harry Williamson contribute widely to the success of this endeavor thru a mix that consistently places their role in contrast to the everchanging rhythmic foundation. “Outside World” proposes a violin-based theme (from Camper van Beethoven’s Jonathan Segel) offset by compelling, searching guitar phrases. “The Laws of Umber” recaptures the brasher side of classic Gong, but with a cool Brit-jazz horn arrangement; this makes it one of the strongest statements on the disc. “As the Sky Was Being Painted” provides a more plaintive, inward reflection with string bass and acoustic guitar interlaced with a stark piano strain. It kind of falls into a category similar to Eno’s work with Cluster but during a Steve Tibbetts session. “Lookout Point” brings together the unlikely duo of guitarist Doug Erickson (Grindlestone) and violinist Craig Fry (Cartoon) that supports the vague intersection between playing on the fly versus planning. In contrast, the country-tinged “Abandoned Habit” reminds me of Steve Howe solo recordings in tone and execution; kind of like if he showed up for a Tin Hat Trio session. Also notable is “Theater on the Other Side of the Sea,” where a jazzy interlude is invoked but with Celtic overtones from a tin whistle before Van der Graaf Generator’s Dave Jackson arrives in the mix. The title track kicks off the whole proceeding with a bubbling pulse that gives Dave Newhouse a comfy foundation for bass woodwinds to add the appropriate accents. Overall, Falcone continues to nurture a musical identity that refines his need to explore while grounding himself with capable compatriots who still clearly embrace the path.

Filed under: New releases, 2021 releases

Related artist(s): David Cross, William Kopecky / Smashpalace, Robert Rich, Spirits Burning, Bridget Wishart, Darryl Way / Wolf, Theo Travis, Cyrille Verdeaux, Karda Estra / Richard Wileman, David Jackson, Alan Davey / Hawkestrel, Dave Newhouse (Manna / Mirage), Paul Sears, Michael Moorcock

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