Steven Ellison's last full-length, 2010's Cosmogramma, was an unanticipated favourite of that year—and would go on to be one of my most-played records of the following year as well. (I was uninitiated to his earlier works, although I've since come to revere 2008's Los Angeles with nearly equal fervour.) But despite catching me by surprise, Cosmogramma announced itself to me anything but loudly. It was a good four or five months of owning the record before I truly began to understand the complexity, craft, and sheer joy that lay within it. That's no accident, and, as its title suggests, Until The Quiet Comes is no different.
As Flying Lotus, Ellison builds his music—a simultaneously limping and striding brand of post-hip hop instrumental psychedelia that's peppered tenderly with guest vocals—with incredible care and subtlety. It's not that it isn't loud, vibrant, or throbbing. It manages its share of trunk-rattling boom and colour-inducing sheets of sound. But FlyLo isn't nearly as interested in direct statements as he is in fragments, half-thoughts, open propositions, and the space between the notes (whether that be notes on a scale or, as is often the case in his rhythms, notes between the meter).
That last phrase, of course, is oft used (both seriously and derisively) about jazz, and its inclusion here isn't accidental. Not only is Ellison the great-nephew of the legendary Alice Coltrane (a jazz artist notable for much more than just her marriage to saxophonist John Coltrane), but he is really a musician who represents one of the best ways forward for jazz in the new millennium. More so than many of his contemporaries, Ellison innately understands how to take the central tenets of jazz—the improvisational building in spontaneous directions upon a musical theme—and to then translate it to, for lack of a better phrase, modern music.
(I realize that this is a statement that would no doubt make purists wince. Perhaps it is better applied to the role of Flying Lotus as a listener/beatmaker/producer than his actual playing...but anyway, do with that suggestion what you will.)
It's not that there aren't great current jazz players (far too many to name here, but Rob Mazurek, Jason Moran, Arve Henriksen to start, maybe...), or that those artists are not doing progressive contemporary things with their music. Nor am I sure that Ellison would like what he does to be called 'jazz.' But I would suggest that there's no better way to approach his music than how one ideally embraces jazz: open to all possible structures and interpretations. Open to endless growth of a performance, even a permanently recorded and captured one.
True to this idea, as great as Until The Quiet Comes sounded at first listen, that's just a hint of how great it has sounded on the tenth. And so I expect it to continue, almost exponentially so.
As with any year, there have been a number of highly anticipated albums in 2012. Some have fallen short, others have ably met the challenge, still more have done adequately. Unlike two years ago, however, I had Flying Lotus on my radar as one of those albums for which I could not wait. Maybe THE album for which I could not wait. But no matter how high the bar was that I set, this record has easily fulfilled its expected promise.
I can't wait to hear how wonderful it sounds to me come the new year. And if there's anyone left who still doesn't believe in the beauty of what computers can bring to music, sit with this album, please. It's magnificent.