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Soma Schema is a new release from color as time, a crossover “jazz-adjacent” sextet led by Philadelphia composer and guitarist Joshua Stamper. Despite the album’s marketing as classical, jazz, and experimental, it is ultimately in the category of easy listening.
While I normally wouldn’t care about an album’s genre listing, there is a fundamental disconnect between the former (music that seeks to express at any costs) and the latter (which floats just above the surface of your already-existing reality). Different genres demand different types of listening. Going in with the wrong attitude could be agitating.
As a whole, this presentation lacks an inherent motivation, but does possess a muted, satisfactory quality. Bereft of driving dissonances or novelty, what you are instead offered is prog rock-influenced minimalism with a lot of warm chord progressions. Sometimes there’s a swing! Put this album on at a party and I guarantee you that people will begin to talk to each other, but probably not dance.
Songs float together without strong defining features. There is an overwhelming feeling that I've heard these melodies elsewhere, or that things are quite predictable. After more than an hour of listening, I'm left with sounds without narrative.
Ironically, color as time doesn’t rely on rhythmic grooves to provide forward momentum. Instead, the group often uses Matt Scarano’s drums to underscore moments of dynamic and harmonic intensity, before, puzzlingly, the percussion cools down after about 30 seconds to a minute. Occasionally, it pops in with seeming randomness. What follows is usually a return to a bluesy chordal wash that does treat our ears to some attractive instrumentation. Some tracks consist almost entirely of this phenomenon, such as “close cover strike gently.”
However, I will say that all the players do a fine job of giving this album (the group’s second) as much life as possible, attending to their roles admirably within relatively restricted compositional material. Each player (Scarano on drums, Stamper on guitar and double bass, Paul Arbogast on trombone, Bethany Danel on keyboard and accordion, Mike Cemprola on reeds and flutes, Christopher McDonald on keys) sounds like the platonic ideal of the instrument. I really relished the moments when Arbogast leaned into the silliness of the occasion to give us crystalline schmaltz. Every album should have an overtly romantic trombone part.
It's possible that Stamper, seeking to spice up the album, peppered it with interspersed etudes that have a bit more of an edge to them. Pieces such as “latchstring,” “webworkers,” and “eardrum thrum” (collectively less than five minutes long) provide needed sizzle. If only they were more thoroughly integrated into the other pieces.
Soma schema is a 21st-century Music for Lovers Only, complete with all the technological marvels of the modern age. It's easy to envision this music played as part of a diet indie classical series at the Lincoln Center, but really, it's best enjoyed while going about your day.
Color as time will host an album-release concert and reception at Fishtown’s Perch Music & Arts Workshop on December 13, 2022, at 7pm.
What, When, Where
soma schema. Joshua Stamper with color as time. Adhyâropa Records. October 10, 2022. Available on streaming platforms and for purchase as a digital album on Bandcamp.
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