Starebaby is the upshot of drummer/composer Dan Weiss’s long-running dream to bring together some of the most accomplished players on the jazz scene to play music that combines the improvisation nature of that music with the power of heavy metal and electronic new music. One of the most in-demand drummers in jazz, Weiss performs with such disparate artists as Rudresh Mahanthappa, Chris Potter, John Zorn and Jen Shyu, evidence of the breadth of his artistry. As with his two critically-acclaimed previous releases — Fourteen, which was named one of the best releases of 2014 by The New York Times, and Sixteen: Drummers Suite, — Starebaby is a decidedly original work that is largely without precedence, reflecting the power of conviction coming from a single, brimming wellspring.
Weiss has wanted to put this particular project together for over a decade. As with his prior output, it reflects his catholic taste in music, where jazz improvisation, doom metal, electro-acoustic music, Indian beat cycles, and innumerable other influences are all compounded into an outpouring of personal expression completely beyond musical boundaries. Starebaby, though, definitely tilts towards the heavy, and Weiss, in particular, cites as influences metal bands such as Meshuggah, Burning Witch, High on Fire, Gorguts, early Metallica, Wormed, and Confessor; electronic and electro acoustic composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, Bernard Parmegiani, and Luc Ferrari; and every type of jazz ranging from Sidney Bechet to Threadgill. It is also inspired by Season 3 of the television show Twin Peaks, whose surreal, ominous emotional landscape helped shape the overall feel of this music. The music ebbs and flows, surging to thundering swells of foreboding doom before tempering to quiet reflection, finding a deep space where brutal aggression meets ghostly vulnerability. The expansive soundscape ranges from fortissimoto pianissimo, grave to presto, and dense, roiling dissonance to exquisite, pellucid melodies.
All of the musicians: Craig Taborn and Matt Mitchell on keyboards, piano, and electronics, Ben Monder on guitar, and Trevor Dunn on bass, along with Weiss – some of the heaviest hitters in the jazz/improvised music scene – share a love for heavy metal. It’s an astonishment to hear them play in this distinctly different setting, but perhaps the absolute authority they display should not be a complete surprise. Weiss played with the doom metal band Bloody Panda a dozen years ago and Dunn was a member of the experimental rock bands Mr. Bungle (with Faith No More singer Mike Patton) Fantômas (also with Patton), and Secret Chiefs 3. Weiss’s thundering gestures and Dunn’s shuddering, sludgy bass serve as the backbone of this music.