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Brandon Seabrook: Pickin’ & Rippin’

Banjo player Brandon Seabrook (photo: Michael Weintrob)
Banjo player Brandon Seabrook (photo: Michael Weintrob)

Brandon Seabrook has an itchy, overdriven, often evil-sounding interface with the banjo, and as an improviser he uses it to establish a clear but aggressively unsettled identity. You can grasp this intuitively within a minute or two of “Sacchetto Mal D’Aria,” from the second self-titled album by his band Seabrook Power Plant. Beginning in almost meditative fashion, the track soon yields to the pressure of his dartlike finger-picking, in hyper-articulated 16th notes, through an increasingly ominous harmonic pattern. There’s some studio multitracking, so that his lines can be doubled in octaves, and some likely sampling, so that a drone-produced by running a bow across the banjo’s strings-spreads out like a blanket beneath. And then comes the riff, a creepier proposition, derived from an East Asian folk scale but twisted into a slow-bashing stoner-rock groove.

What’s going on here? You get the sense that Seabrook would prefer to keep the answer just out of reach. He’s a jazz musician of mercurial and sometimes confrontational temperament, loosely after the manner of John Zorn, who featured him on a Masada-centered Tzadik compilation called Voices in the Wilderness in 2003. Seabrook, a guitarist by training, is a product of the New England Conservatory, where he studied with drummer Bob Moses and served a meaningful stint with the klezmer crowd. He has the decidedly Zorn-like propensity for quick-flash permutation, along with a related disregard not only for genre distinctions but also formal delineations. To put it more simply, he’s a scrambler, committed to the power of disruptive energy.

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