From the Lab of Andy Haas

Andy HaasParadise of Ashes (Resonant, 2010)

Paradise of Ashes pits Andy Haas’ sax against prepared backgrounds of drum machines and strange synthesized rhythms, crunchy and thick. It verges on a late-night tiki bar feel, with the warm loneliness of the sax and the primitive percussive sounds in the background — but there’s something darker afoot.

You could say it’s more of an electronics album than a sax album. The backgrounds really are backgrounds, as opposed to backing rhythms, built from drum machines, electronic treatments, and all manner of strange samples. On many tracks, it’s all looped into a rhythm that doesn’t march in step with the sax.

Haas didn’t just hit “on” on a drum machine; these backgrounds took work, and they defiine each track’s mood. “Khalliha Allallah (Leave It To G-d),” is driven by a drum/didjderidoo hybrid from the Tron universe. Haas’ composition “New Maladies of the Soul” bubbles up like something from a sparse alien lounge, with a saucy percussive backdrop against the sax’s lonely lead melody.

The setting also creates some opportunities for goofing around. Cole Porter’s “Every Time We Say Goodbye” is played straight in terms of melody, but it’s backed by a cluttering hailstorm of clunky percussion, like a Polynesian war council. “My Life Would Suck Without You” (which is apparently a pop tune with ties to Glee or American Idol or something else I don’t watch) becomes a reverent funeral march, backed by a slow bass-drum pulse.

Many tracks’ melodies are ballads or folk songs, but Haas does add some free-jazz jumping and skipping on “The Devil Is Loose in the World,” a rather upbeat traditional song backed by the sound of slowed-down, backwards singing (or speaking), a warbly, like Gregorian chants sung by some alien blobular race. I also like “Bonjour Tristesse,” which is almost hip and electronica-like with its background (drum machine with occasional falling rubble?) and blippy, carefree sax.

Haas has Martha and the Muffins on his resume, but I know him from the CDs he’s sent to KZSU every now and again. They’re all quite different, bound together by a few common themes, such as an affinity for Eastern religions and musics. On Death Don’t Have No Mercy (KZSU review here), he and Don Fiorino painted cowboy Western landscapes populated by  modern sax sounds. Radio I Ching had more of a world-fusion feel. Hanuman Sextet played around with the motifs of Eastern religions (with Fiorino adding some cowboy twang again).

Even with his solo stuff, Haas’ ideas branch out; in fact, I think each of his solo albums has taken a different direction. The Ruins of America, from 2007, uses electronic treatments to twist his sax notes into eerie forms — but it’s got a similar edge. (You can find out more about Ruins in this Canadian interview — the last question of which is priceless — and on CD Baby.) And Humanitarian War, a 2006 response to the Bush administration, is a stark, angry scream. The politics are still there on Paradise of Ashes — I’m sensing a cynical smirk in that title — but the album seems to be coming from a happier place.

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