What would have been album reviews featured in the 2020 magazine, the #ThrowbackThursday series hopes to provide listeners a friendly reminder of some keynote releases that really stood out to NEPAudio Staff.
written by Jeffrey Glenn
Gnomon, The Clock Reads‘ second and final LP, is an excellent primer on their unique sound and personality as a band. The instrumental jazz quartet makes use of two guitarists along with bass and drums, a relatively unusual configuration that raises challenges ably met by the ensemble. The presence of two electric guitars and use of pop and rock gestures pushes this into the “jazz fusion” spectrum. If this tag conjures images of the loose structures and squealing leads of Miles Davis’s late sixties to early seventies bands, though, The Clock Reads tends toward the mellower, tighter end of the spectrum, sometimes incorporating Latin influences, as on “Elation,” “Comida del Alma,” and “Patasphere.” Despite the smooth textural palette and melodic focus, The Clock Reads stays well clear of “Weather Channel jazz;” the drums have punch and the basslines are active and thoroughly considered.
Bookended by an atmospheric “Prologue” and “Epilogue,” the set kicks off in earnest with “Spirit,” illustrating the group’s proclivity for playing with rhythm and meter. Throughout the record the band lays down syncopated, offbeat grooves that create a sense of unpredictability even within relatively straightforward meters, always with a sense of swing and funk anchored by drummer Steve Ippolito.
“Spirit” plays with the ambiguity between 3/4 and 6/8 in a breezy, crisp shuffle. In “Elation,” a spiky 2+3 groove resolves to sinister simple-meter Phrygian chords and melodies. In “Comida del Alma,” a brisk 9/8 rhythm underpins a Latin guitar melody doubled by trumpet. “Máncora” is a departure in its simple triadic harmonies and languid, pastoral guitar theme.
Ensembles with two guitars face the problem of one potentially interfering with the other. The band’s thoughtful arrangements and the production by recording engineer Riccardo Shulz, mix engineer Michael Bridges, and mastering engineer Justin Berger ensure clarity and separation between the instruments. Guitarists Jason Greenlaw and John O’Brien engage in call-and-response, trade leads and accompaniment, and harmonize melodies while Michael Berger’s bass parts are at once foundational and melodic.
Audiences with an existing appreciation for musicianship, including fans of jam bands and instrumental guitarists in the Eric Johnson ilk will find The Clock Reads’ approach welcome and engaging, as will musicians and listeners more solidly in the rock milieu but open to exploring jazz. For any audience, Gnomon is a worthy accompaniment to a relaxed evening that also rewards detailed listening.