Welcome to a decidedly semi-spooky Friday the 13th edition of Office Hours! Along with the lovely fall weather, a very interesting album release has graced our digital doorsteps and I have the distinct pleasure of diving into it head first.
Myriad3 are a jazz trio formed in 2010, hailing from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Chris Donnelly (piano), Dan Fortin (bass), and Ernesto Cervini (drums) play straightforward, honest music in the modern jazz idiom. The players function very well as an ensemble, with each taking their turn as soloist or blending anonymously into the musical texture.
Myriad3 released their debut album ‘Tell’ in 2013 on ALMA records, an 11-track excursion into a variety of textures, infectious head tunes, and driving rhythms. Wait, what’s that? You, in the back with the anime shirt – you are wondering what any this has to do with chip music? I’m glad you asked! In September, Chris Donnelly finished arranging the entire album in 8-bit fashion and re-released the tunes under the title ‘Tell((chip))’. These are not simple tunes in straight 4/4 time, run through a cheap-sounding VST; these are entirely new versions of the source material, presented in exquisite detail.
‘Tell((chip))’ is a delightful re-imagining of some fine contemporary jazz charts that combine improvisation with more standard head melodies, backed by driving rhythms throughout. My review will be referencing some of the original versions of these tunes as heard on ‘Tell’, and I suggest that you explore the live versions of these tracks if you enjoy the chip arrangements – they are fantastic in both presentations! Some of these tracks are quite lengthy and all are at least three minutes, so I am picking a few of my favorites to discuss here in detail.
Myriad (click to stream from SoundCloud)
In what will become a recurring theme on ‘Tell((chip))’, it is quite shocking to me to hear just how different this tune is after listening to the live version. Chris has done a fantastic job not just with programming and sound design, but with coming up with new ways of thinking about these tunes and exploring new options with the themes.
What began as a jaunty, driving jazz chart becomes a post-apocalyptic distortion-laden thrill ride. The driving bassline remains mainly intact, combining with the charm of the slower, drawn out chordal sections. Another constant element on both releases are the many tempo shifts, which give great variety between the musical sections and create an organic, living feel to the music. One added musical idea that is unique to the chip release is the beautiful sparkling texture that weaves around solo lines at 3:15. Finally, there is a great little coda with some extreme high register lead lines and a thrumming bass to close out the chart.
I LOVE this tune, and it is very interesting how the mood changes from the live to chip version. Live, ‘Fractured’ sounds anxious with steady but syncopated rhythms, while staying with a mostly sparse musical texture. The chip version sounds much more frantic, like a chittering machine on the brink of self-destruction. A great atonal lead sounds like a robot slowly breaking down, whirring and grinding among the jazzy leads and rhythm section. This stricken robot synth is surrounded by steady bass and increasingly distressed chords; my favorite part of the chip version is the high synth solo that enters around 2:10 – fantastic!
Disturbing Inspiration, part 1
This two-part track begins with a driving rhythm in the piano; translated to insistent pulses in chip version, this simple alteration is another example of the new conception of the source material rather than a strict transcription. The form of this track alternates between regular rhythms and a dreamy, floating section with beautiful noise channel work. Extra textures and running notes not present in the jazz version add atmosphere and fill out the sonic landscape; the fat triangle bass in the third slow section is my favorite moment in this track.
The interesting juxtapositions of tempo, musical style, and lead sounds between sections keeps the music fresh each time the refrain returns. Part 1 of this duo ends very melancholy with maj7 chords and crescendo envelope instruments. This texture is very reminiscent of some of the better JRPG cut scene sountracks; I can definitely envision this closing section underscoring part of a Vyse monologue in Skies of Arcadia: Legends.
Disturbing Inspiration, part 2
There is a very interesting shift in texture and style from part 1; the previous slow music is now re-cast as a syncopated, uplifting main section. The off-kilter samba in the original is somewhat subdued in the chip version, but does build to a more driving, percussive sound after the first minute of music. I love the tempo shifts around 2:15, but this is the only track I can definitely say I prefer the live to chip version, only because the interesting rhythm in the introduction isn’t as prevalent.
Another fascinating shift in tone from live to chip arrangement occurs in ‘Drifters’. The live recording sounds very tranquil and peaceful, while the chiptune composition sounds almost ethereal and tense, with thinly veiled danger lurking around the corner. Gradually increasing textures and a slow crescendo of a distorted bass line build tension, accompanined by a high, plaintive melody for most of the tune. While certainly not derivative of any other music, this would definitely the soundtrack to a water level were it to be from a game soundtrack!
This is my favorite track on both albums. I am in lust with that funky bass line and quirky melody, and it translates very well to the chiptune medium. There are some great noise moments in the added textures on ‘Tell((chip))’, and the high-pitched chaos during the first solo section is a lot of fun. The driving bass and percussion throughout the solo sections really helps keep the listner grounded among all of the cacaphony, and the simple returns to the head really contrast well with the free improvisation. This is a legit jam, and it reminds me of some of the best and funkiest Nintendo “bar/pool hall” themes.
C Jam Blues
Finally, as a bonus review of sorts, I just can’t skip talking about ‘C Jam Blues’. Originally written and performed by Duke Ellington, that Myriad3 put their own unique spin on this great jazz standard.
The live recording is a great take on Ellington’s chords and melody, with some fascinating tempo shifts that completely change the overall feel and sound of a very familiar tune. The chip version keeps the tempo shifts intact and adds in a variety of noises that recall the grating, robotic noises from ‘Fractured’.
If you are looking for great modern jazz from a hard-grooving trio, Myriad3 is your jam. If you are looking for great jazz chiptunes, then Myriad3 is also your jam. The only problem I have with this review is that you, dear reader, might not have already listened to the live version of ‘Tell’ before hearing the chiptune interpretations of those tracks. The fact that ‘Tell((chip))’ is not a literal transcription but a reinterpreting of the source material makes both albums a truly unique experience. I might suggest starting with the live tracks for the simple reason that the textures tend to actually be thinner between the trio when compared to the chip arrangements. Some of your favorite chaos or rusty robot noises aren’t present, and I certainly wouldn’t want you to think less of the original album.
You can pick up one or both albums mentioned in this review at the iTunes links below, and make sure to catch Myriad3 on tour this winter if they are jamming near your town. Until next time – stay chilly, you swingin’ hepcats.