Review: Dustin Carlson – Air Ceremony

From the first track to the last, Air Ceremony is what the title would suggest. A constantly stimulating experience, the album does not disappoint with it’s abrupt shifts and turns throughout the music, focusing on the temporality of it all. The group is comprised of Dustin Carlson (guitar), Nathaniel Morgan (alto saxophone), Eric Trudel (baritone saxophone), Danny Gouker (trumpet), Matt Mitchell (Prophet 6), Adam Hopkins (bass), and Kate Gentile (drums). There is a lot of freedom in range of tone and dynamics that comes with the chosen instrumentation. The album as a whole is filled with music that never fully grounds itself and never really feels like it needs to. Where this kind of music lives is in the space around you, floating and fleeting.

The opening track “Sun Squelch” attests to this – opening with the repetition of a phrase, followed by the deconstruction of the piece, building up again with a different base, and creating a high energy movement before ending with a slow and soft fade out. Every section is new and just as interesting as the last. Carlson is responsible for leading the band, but the guitar doesn’t always take precedence over the other instruments. With the constant twists and turns, there is a welcomed lack of internal hierarchy. The members each take turns leading and shaping the music. For that reason, the abrupt changes feel rather natural even though the combinations sometimes feel unusual.

The idea of the constant changes is seen through the majority of the pieces, but each piece is new and different. There is one piece that stands out of the rest because of it’s different overall quality in tone: “Watherson.” As the shortest track on the record, the calm acoustic atmosphere gives listeners a ground to step on before continuing with the last three tracks.

Carlson’s description of the record includes his ideas on the ritual that occurs through live music – the excitement through watching people play their instruments, the dynamics that play out between the members of a group, and the relationship between musicians and audience. He writes, “the musical ceremony, gathering with friends, this other place that is life in sound, it’s expressing, releasing oneself into the air.” This musical ceremony that happens is filled with the energy of the musicians and listeners. That’s what you get through this record. The energy in the air leads you through the music, always stimulating.

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