Animation is Bob Belden’s project. He is a composer-arranger-producer-saxophonist who thinks big. He has made ambitious concept albums, like Black Dahlia and New Sketches of Spain, with huge ensembles full of famous musicians. But Transparent Heart uses a quintet comprising 20-something players from Belden’s alma mater, the University of North Texas. It is his most personal, edgiest recording to date. It may also be his most important.
Belden’s liner notes state his intention: to portray “the sound of Manhattan ... an observation of history through music and sound textures.” Such subject matter necessarily leads to extremity and diversity. The title track is as relentless as the city’s raw nocturnal energy. “Cry in the Wind” is as pensive as the city’s nocturnal loneliness. “Seven Towers” is the chaos and shattering agony of 9/11, violent with splashed colors. Because of digital effects and sampling, Transparent Heart never feels like a quintet record. Five instruments are blown up into seething electronic orchestras.
This album is about the ensemble and its noir narrative, but the individual talent of the four new players is unmistakable. (Belden is the fifth, on reeds.) Peter Clagett’s trumpet is usually one vivid, bright layer of the total fabric, but he also makes haunting solo statements, as on “Occupy!” He and Roberto Verastegui operate the electronics with daring creativity. When Verastegui funnels the mix into his own single keyboard instrument, his solos spill in all directions and enlarge the story, as on “Urbanoia.” Bassist Jacob Smith and drummer Matt Young are the reasons Transparent Heart feels like jazz overwhelmed by the kinetic power of rock, albeit rock on a new plane of awareness. Together they give this music a continuous ass-whipping. Young’s raining beats exemplify the punishing, exhilarating energy of only one town on earth.