When Frank Zappa said that jazz was not dead, it just smelled funny, he did not anticipate the imaginative usage of American free-jazz trumpeter Steph Richards would do with scents, some are funny, others are weird, but all insist that jazz is very much alive and kicking hard. The new album of Richards, «Supersense», comes with an array of singular, abstract scents to both inform and accompany the recording, created by multimedia and scent artist Sean Raspet.
Richards has worked and learned from such innovative, experimental musicians like Butch Morris, Anthony Braxton, and Henry Threadgill and more pop-oriented innovators like St. Vincent and Yoko Ono. She wanted to create a one-of-a-kind listening experience that would bring the listeners out of their comfort zones and closer to the music by involving other senses, helping them hear things they might not have previously imagined. Scent offered such a new pathway to intuitive immediacy.
Richards crafted «Supersense» compositions simultaneously with Raspet’s scents. While her band – fellow all-star improvisers – pianist Jason Moran, bass player Stomu Takeishi, and drummer Kenny Wolleson – played, the musicians would be directed to open numbered boxes containing scents and respond to with unorthodox improvisations, sounds, and textures. Later, Raspet listened to the recordings, tweaked the scents to better accompany the music, and his creations are now presented on a scratch and sniff card that accompanies the physical copies of Supersense. Richards adds that some of the scents are not necessarily beautiful, but are complex ones – some would make the listener feel a little uneasy, some would make the listener feel clean, while others would make the listener feel dirty.
But even without the tactile feeling of these scents, Richards inter-sensorial, synaesthesia journey is quite revelatory. She experiments with extended breathing techniques and even plays underwater; Moran adds some preparations to the piano and Wollesen brought many homemade percussion devices. None of the compositions follow a tight, coherent narrative, but all have their own passionate logic and all sound as if the assorted scents trigger many inventive, enigmatic, and often poetic, sudden sonic detours. Just check the minimalist and mysterious «Glass», «Sleeping in the Sky» and «The Gentlest Insect» or the eerie and chaotic «Metal Mouth». And this is exactly the kind of feeling Richards wanted – and succeeded remarkably – to convey: «One where we’re not exactly able to define where we’re traveling and what we’re feeling, but where we can just be swept away by sensation».
Steph Richards (tp, flh, resonating dr, water); Jason Moran (p), Stomu Takeishi (b), Kenny Wollesen (dr, Wollesonics), Andrew Munsey (Wollesonics); Sean Raspet (scent design)