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When musicologists of the future look back to find the missing link between the avant-jazz and synth rock of the early 21st century and the hybrid sounds that have yet to reach our contemporary ears, the debut albums by the futurist jazz trio CACAW could easily mark a key moment in that evolution. With music inspired by the love between robots, the swallowing of one star by another, and elements in a state of change, Stellar Power is an album driven by transition, whether in the music or in the cosmos.
Formed in 2010 by keyboardist Landon Knoblock, CACAW itself evolved from an acoustic improvising trio into a vehicle for Knoblock’s forward-looking compositions and experimentation with electric sounds. Saxophonist Oscar Noriega and drummer Jeff Davis were both members of a larger ensemble formed by Knoblock to perform the music of Andrew Hill. When only the three of them were able to make a rehearsal one day, Knoblock immediately recognized the intense chemistry they shared and determined to explore it further.
“Every sound Oscar makes has got a vibe,” Knoblock says. “It’s got an attitude, a spirit. He has such a unique personal sound. And Jeff was one of the first guys I played with when I moved to New York, so in addition to being a powerhouse of a drummer, he’s someone who I trust immensely.”
That combination of intuitive interaction and sonic range led to the development of CACAW’s sound – and, as the onomatopoeic name implies, sound is the operative word. “CACAW is a sound,” Knoblock explains, “it’s not a real word. It doesn’t have a meaning other than representing a sound, so it represents the music we’re making – when the actual act of creation is happening, it’s just about making sounds. Not keys, not modes, not harmonies, not intervals – just sounds.”
Those sounds span the space-age sludge of album opener “Double Dagger” and the Kubrickian weightlessness of “Space Robot Falls in Love,” the android romance of “Replicant Lover” and the interstellar auroras of “Neutron Star, Eating its Binary Neighbor.” The titles, and the stories behind them, reflect Knoblock’s lifelong interest in science and science fiction, as do the cosmic textures of his synths and electronics.
“The science and science fiction that I like the most is the optimistic kind,” he says. “I like authors who paint these pictures of a future history where people have risen above the problems of our modern age to embrace technologies to fix the problems that we have today. It might be a really romantic idea but I find it very appealing.”
As with the best sci-fi, however, Knoblock’s compositions use galactic-sized ideas to relate to human-scale issues. The theme of transition is present in his adventurous music and the whimsical tales of giant robots and ravenous stars, but it stems from a difficult but ultimately rewarding period of traumatic change in his own life.
The breakdown of a personal relationship ultimately led to “a downward spiral of making a lot of bad decisions and not really taking care of myself,” Knoblock recalls. Ultimately he came through unscathed, having mended his own outlook as well as his relations with his broken family. “I finally made the decision to climb back out of the pit that I’d dug for myself. So now I’m in a healthier place than I’ve ever been in my life.”
That personal catharsis is as much a part of Stellar Power as is star-gazing or watching Blade Runner, the end result being a deeply personal core running through the music’s astrophysical ambitions. “In hindsight,” Knoblock says, “I realize that this music is not a reflection of my life, it just is my life. It’s who I am. My life and my music are not separate things; they’re the same thing, one we can talk about and the other we can listen to.”
Originally from Miami, Knoblock has lived in Brooklyn since 2007. He’s played with a wide range of artists including Andrew D'Angelo, Ron Horton, Ben Allison, Michael Blake, and Jeff Lederer. His last album, Gasoline Rainbow, was a duo recording with prog rock/metal drummer Jason Furman, while his own music ranges from pointillist solo piano to multi-hued synthesizer constructions as indebted to Boards of Canada and Thom Yorke as to Tim Berne and Andrew Hill.
Clarinetist and saxophonist Oscar Noriega is a twenty-year veteran of the boundary-breaking New York jazz scene, best known as a member of Tim Berne’s Snakeoil and the collective quartet Endangered Blood with Chris Speed, Jim Black and Trevor Dunn. He’s also worked with Tom Rainey, Cuong Vu, Brad Shepik, and Slavic Soul Party, among others.
Colorado-born drummer Jeff Davis is a member of Eivind Opsvik’s Overseas, the trio Tone Collector with Opsvik and saxophonist Tony Malaby, and Michael Bates’ Outside Sources. He recently released Leaf House, his acclaimed second album as a leader, with Opsvik and pianist Russ Lossing. The in-demand drummer has played or recorded with a number of jazz greats, including the Pedro Giraudo Jazz Orchestra, Jon Irabagon, Kris Davis, Ryan Keberle, Gebhard Ullmann, and Ralph Alessi.