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The Octopod - 'Monoliths and Sepulchres'

Miller Wrenn
Contributing Writer
millerwrenn@gmail.com / @MillerWrenn

Saxophonist and composer Garrett Wingfield has an infectiously peculiar musical mind. His interests and abilities fall under no easily recognizable category. His work as both a performer and composer somehow feels equally informed by disparate influences — as much Ellington as it is Berio, as much Ornette as it is Zappa — complete with a healthy helping of humorous self-awareness and pop-culture relevance. The Octopod was founded as a vehicle for Wingfield's compositions and improvisational exploration after the members met while attending the much-lauded University of North Texas jazz program. It features Wingfield, Aaron Dutton, and Emilio Mesa on a small arsenal of saxophones, his twin brother Luke Wingfield on trumpet, Conner Eisenmenger on trombone, Aaron Holthus on electric and acoustic bass, Gregory Santa Croce on piano, and John Sturino on drums.

From the doom-laden thorniness of "Buried Construct" and the energetically morphing textures of the improvised "Passing Cloud", Monoliths and Sepulchres presents a widely varied aesthetic palette from a young band with a very unique energy. The level of instrumental facility in the ensemble is readily apparent across the album's 16 tracks, but it is deployed in a way that suggests a group of highly trained musicians with a greater kind of self-awareness — one that allows them to set aside posturing and egotism in favor of a certain whimsical humility. That whimsicality gives this record one of its most compelling sources of charm: it feels like a group of friends really having fun together. Without sacrificing the complexity or performance of the music, The Octopod offers a more joyful energy in a sea of bands that seem to take themselves just a bit too seriously. For instance, when Frank Zappa famously asked "Does Humor Belong in Music?", I can't help but think that an octet arrangement of the theme from a satirical commercial for a ball of pizza — the aptly titled, "Pizza Ball" — was exactly what he had in mind.

The album features an improvised interlude from each member of the ensemble, with Wingfield's bass saxophone improvisation serving as overture, articulating the intersections of musical energies to come. Immediately following is "Buried Construct", the album's first composed piece, which somehow positions itself between the feelings 'I want to headbang' and 'I want to analyze this.' It also features the first statement of group improvisation, which sets a strong precedent of thoughtful interaction and textural ingenuity that persists throughout the album. The title track stands out as an example of The Octopod's focused attention to sound. Through a low, rumbling, ostinato with the rhythm section, Wingfield's bass sax sounds like it might be drawing power from a nuclear reactor. It has so much kinetic energy and personality, even as he moves away from a straight tone toward the wind-whipping and scattered harmonics of extended techniques. This deft melding of personality and control is not exclusive to Wingfield on this recording. Each player presents a deep understanding of the timbral range and expressivity of their instruments both in their ensemble playing and their improvisations — coalescing into an album that is decidedly vibrant, intricate, compelling, and fun.

Monoliths and Sepulchres, the debut album from Denton, Texas group The Octopod, is out now on Bandcamp.

Garrett Wingfield - compositions, saxophones
Aaron Dutton - saxophones
Emilio Mesa - saxophones
Luke Wingfield - trumpet
Conner Eisenmenger - trombone
Gregory Santa Croce - piano
Aaron Holthus - bass
John Sturino - drums

Recorded at Civil Audio in Denton, TX on July 11th, 2017
Mixed and mastered by Michael Briggs
Album Artwork by Cameron Cox
Cover Font by Meg Gallagher

Miller Wrenn is a bassist and composer based in Los Angeles, CA.

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