The E.Normus Trio


E. Normus Trio: Love and Barbiturates (2013)

These Asheville, NC musicians started collaborating in 2007, leading to this debut release that skirts the boundaries of jazz-rock, free-jazz and progressive metal-jazz. The jazz and improvisational elements accentuate most of these works, fueled by adrenaline rushes amid the trio's broad arsenal.

Excitable but largely cohesive, lead soloist and clarinetist Steve Alford bridges torrid breakdowns with wily phrasings and wistfully melodic sentiment. Meanwhile, Jay Sanders uses a N/S Stick, an 8-string multipurpose instrument that affords him the ability to play bass and guitar in concurrent or alternating fashion. Therefore, the band rocks on with titanium-enforced durability via changeable patterns and unanticipated detours.

It's all been done before in various ways, shapes and forms, but this band integrates numerous genre-based inferences into its repertoire. With asymmetrical doses of swing, rock, and Sanders' fuzzed-out psycho guitar licks, the music generates remembrances of New York City's vibrant downtown scene, at times drawing comparisons to John Zorn's Naked City ensemble. However, the trio doesn't abide by a staid methodology. Other than executing tricky time signatures, for example, they shift gears on "Clara," where Sanders explores the lower registers, offset by shifting metrics and upbeat balladry.

"The Long Boots of Age" rings like a metal-blues bash via Sanders' wailing lines, but they temper the flow with an odd-metered, one-note unison vamp as drummer Michael W. Davis launches a polyrhythmic tirade and raises the pitch. Here, the band counterbalances a feeding frenzy with softly woven innocence, and is a consistent paradigm throughout the program. Hence, it doesn't work within one particular formula, yet maintains a distinct group-centric persona. And on "Maxwell's Demon," the group activates a bubbly electronics ostinato as a backdrop for Alford's blithe lines to formulate an unpretentious space-jazz ditty. To that end, Asheville, NC, has emerged as a mini- mecca for art and music. With this idiosyncratically titled outing, the trio pushes the envelope while yielding substantial rewards, executed with cleverness and impressive technical faculties.

Track Listing: Manifesto; Love; Barbiturates; The Woodpecker; Blood; Sandy Betty; Clara; Dear Diary; The Long Boots of Age; Daguerreotype; Maxwell’s Demon; Acquiescence; Rain.

Personnel: Jay Sanders: 8-string N/S Stick guitar/bass, effects; Michael W. Davis: drums; Steve Alford: alto clarinet, bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet.

E.Normus Trio – Love and Barbiturates

If you like your jazz a tad on the avant-garde side, then E Normus Trio's Love & Barbiturates is for you.

Wonderfully progressive in style, complete with off-the-wall arrangements, unexpected and startling effects and a completely unrestricted attitude, the three members of E Normus Trio have created an album of astounding creativity and substance. Taking a page from both the great Dizzy Gillespie and Theo Lengyel (of the band Mr. Bungle), clarinetist Steve Alford brings a wild, frenetic confidence to his playing, driving the band to crazed heights of fast-paced musical insanity. Not that the entirety of Love & Barbiturates is wild and up-tempo. Indeed, several songs have a wistful, even somber pace, reminiscent of some of the work of Tom Waits. Percussionist Michael W. Davis does some incredibly funky work and never drops a stitch, while multi-instrumentalist Jay Sanders piqued my interest with his use of a Chapman Stick, a strange and rarely heard instrument I myself have recently started to learn. Definitely something a little different for the Asheville music scene, Love and Barbiturates is for those who love to have their musical horizons expanded a bit. If you're feeling like something a bit unpredictable, I urge you to give this one a listen.

Mark Saleski’s Mid-Year Best Of 2013: Pat Metheny, Richard Thompson, E. Normus Trio, The Flaming Lips

No. 8: The E. Normus Trio – Love and Barbiturates

The cliché to employ here is “punk jazz,” but I’ll be danged if that doesn’t fit perfectly.

From Miles to McBride: Summer's best jazz discs, recommended by Richard Scheinin

E. Normus Trio: "Love and Barbiturates" (Little King). Grooving free jazz/surfer rock/pop. Fierce and hilarious. The bass clarinet will make you smile.

Album Review: E.Normus Trio – Love and Barbiturates

This music reviewing gig of mine is funny, sometimes. Not long ago I received via email a press release from a New York-based music publicist. The message covered a number of recent releases, most of which fell into a jazz and/or avant-garde category. I read through and was especially intrigued by one of the artists noted, a three-piece called E.Normus Trio. I requested a copy of Love and Barbiturates, with an eye toward reviewing it if I liked it.

As I discovered upon receiving the CD, E.Normus Trio (who describe themselves as avant-garde post-rock) are based right here in my hometown of little ol" Asheville NC (population: 83,000). I am not – by any measure – the most heavily involved person in the local music scene, but one would have thought that I might have known about this fascinating trio, especially seeing as they don"t play bluegrass or Americana.

As the liner notes of Love and Barbiturates helpfully explain – and one really does need liner notes to help on the journey through such outside-the-box music as this – E.Normus Trio uses the classic horn/bass/drums jazz trio concept as a jumping-off point. Instead of picking and sticking to a brass instrument, Steve Alford has three clarinets: alto, bass and contrabass clarinet. As a result, he gains a six-octave sonic palette upon which to work. And instead of an upright or conventional bass guitar, Jay Sanders plays something called an N/S Stick, an eight-stringed instrument that spans the range of electric guitar and bass. Michael Davis plays plain ol" drums, but he"s certainly in a league with his bandmates.

None of this information would matter if the songs weren"t interesting. And indeed they are. The opening "Manifesto" is one minute and forty-one seconds of manic, Zappaesque polka-weirdness, reminiscent of "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Sexually Aroused Gas Mask" from The Mothers‘ Weasels Ripped My Flesh. And "Love" is a series of musical dialogues that serve as a primer into E.Normus Trio"s wonderfully warped world: what sounds like guitar-and-bass interchange is just Sanders. What sounds like the horn section going nuts is Alford on his various clarinets (which often don"t sou d at all like clarinets, honking wildly as they do). And behind them, Davis flails away with formidable precision. As they all come together, it"s a thrilling, dizzying experience.

Another extremely brief track is "Barbiturates," a softer affair, that"s sort of a skewed modern take on 50s cool jazz. "The Woodpecker" does indeed have a feel a bit like classic cartoon music, albeit of the very strange variety. Alford"s deft clarinet runs are counterpointed by some quick runs up and down the bass strings on Sanders" stick. But then when Alford starts squawking his clarinet, listeners may think of Albert Ayler‘s saxophone.

On "Blood," the trio comes as close as they ever do to rock; tremendous controlled distortion out of Sanders" instrument contrasts with (relatively) conventionally melodic playing from Alford. Another mini-track, "Sandy Betty," kicks off with the sound of a little girl counting in the band; what follows alternates between a jolly romp and some delightfully atonal skronk.

"Clara" is mood music for moderns: ambitious jazz-inflected music with a memorable melody and a snaky bass riff. "Side two" (there really is an extended bit of silence to mark the end of the first conceptual side) kicks off with another brief track, "Dear Diary." It"s a rethinking of "Manifesto," with a groovy drum solo.

At six and a half minutes, "The Long Boots of Age" is by far the longest track on Love and Barbiturates. With ominous riffage that recalls Black Sabbath, Sanders lays the groundwork for some more exploratory work from Alford. The track then moves into another musical dialogue between the two, with Davis adding deft punctuation. "Daguerrotype" showcases some gentle picking from Sanders. It"s perhaps the most conventional track on the album; it"s also among the loveliest. The track unfolds to showcase some nice clarinet work as well, and the whole affair gets heavier as it goes along.

"Maxwell"s Demon" is one of the few tracks on which any amount of effects are used (the album was also essentially cut live at Echo Mountain Studios in the band"s hometown). Sanders" stick is treated with something a bit like an envelope follower or wah-wah pedal, and the gurgling result sounds almost like a synth line on a Moog synthesizer (aside: Moog Music is headquartered in Asheville too).

The dissonant, impressionistic "Acquiescence" is an under-a-minute, melancholy clarinet piece. It leads straight into the album closer, "Rain." The album"s liner notes ruminate on the concept of loss, and one wonders if "Rain" might be the intended soundtrack to that brief essay.

Challenging yet warm and inviting, E.Normus Trio"s Love and Barbiturates brings together the best of jazz and rock sensibilities, creating something exciting in the process. Recommended; the adventurous and open-minded will be rewarded for giving this a listen.

E.Normus Trio: Love & Barbiturates (Little King Records, 2013)

Love and Barbiturates del E.Normus Trio es una buena obra para que los oyentes aficionados al rock se animen a aproximarse a sonoridades jazzísticas. Jay Sanders con su N/S Stick de ocho cuerdas consigue un rango de sonoridades que van del bajo a la guitarra eléctrica. El baterista Michael W. Davis tiene un punch potente. Ambos músicos llevan al sonido a un terreno rockero. En cuanto al clarinetista (alto, bajo y contrabajo) Steve Alford, él es quien aporta un sonido más cercano al jazz.

Las composiciones (todas ellas obras de Sanders o Alford, los dos creadores del grupo), se mueven del jazz (buscando que los temas swingueen con claridad), al rock de distintos pelajes (hay referencias zappianas, al rock progresivo o al hard-rock). Son unos temas con una duración entre tres y seis minutos (a los que se añaden algunas breves piezas a modo de interludio), que mantienen al oyente instalado bien en terreno conocido, bien en un terreno que no le resulte excesivamente incómodo a pesar de estar en tierras extrañas.

La principal pega que se puede poner a Love and Bartiturates es un planteamiento demasiado plano en el desarrollo de los temas. Independientemente de que el trío esté ante una balada, un tiempo medio o un tema rápido, en todos ellos el clarinetista se encamina a mostrar su lado más expresionista, lo que provoca que todos los temas del disco suenen con excesiva uniformidad.

I had the incredible luck of being in Asheville, NC celebrating my fiance's birthday when these guys had a CD release party. I have never seen or heard jazz fusion like this, led by a clarinet, supported by a bass/guitar hybrid played by one guy and backed up by one of the most dynamic drummers out there. This trio is unreal! Fans of ORL's Apocalypse Inside of an Orange should give these guys a listen.


March 19, 2013 (Little King Records)

ASHEVILLE, NC-- Consisting of an alto clarinet, N/S Stick and drums, this unique trio produces a truly leviathan sound that effortlessly blends jazz, rock and ambiance into something altogether new while simultaneously paying homage to the innovators of the past.

The E.Normus Trio has been a project of Jay Sanders and Steve Alford since 2007. At the heart of the group's huge sound is Sanders' use of the N/S Stick, an 8-string multi-mode instrument allowing him to play both bass and guitar. To this add Michael W. Davis on drums, who brings incredible jazz sensitivity coupled with tremendous power and superhuman control of time. Finally, atop this cacophony screams Alford's primeval lead "voice", six octaves of sweeping clarinet range. The E.Normus Trio creates a sonic palette hitherto unknown.

Love and Barbiturates is a concept album that explores the human condition of crushing loss and vexatious recovery. Conceived first and foremost as a vinyl release to be experienced whole and in sequence, it nevertheless contains prodigious singles covering a range of genres. Compare the punk-jazz title track "Love" with the beautiful sonic poem "Rain" and the range of both the band and the album is stirringly revealed. Rock enthusiasts will appreciate the primal sounds of "Blood" while the more traditional ear will enjoy "The Woodpecker" or "Daguerreotype".

Listening Post: Jimi Hendrix, The E.Normus Trio, Son Volt, John Stein

The E. Normous Trio, "Love and Barbituates" (Little King). What, you might well ask, is an "N/S Stick?" It's described in the liner notes to this avant-garde post-rock cum jazz trio as "an 8-string multimode instrument that covers the ranges of both a bass and a guitar." It's what bassist Jay Sanders switched to after the trio of him and his clarinet partner Steve Alford started having Sunday jams at an Asheville, N.C., club with their drummer partner Michael W. Davis. Sanders' intention – again, according to the notes – was to cover "what would normally be played separately by both a bassist and a guitar player." Or, as Alford calls it "one brain covering two voices." What you've got here, then, is in the musical neighborhood of the music of Mostly Other People Do The Killing, i.e. the next in your face step after the music of Bobby Previte and his downtown New York bunch and the hard-charging jazz/post-rock Brooklynites but coming from, yes, North Carolina of all places (don't scoff. It's where both John Coltrane and Dizzy Gillespie came from.) You can't begin to label this music, even though jazz and rock seem prominent to it. Alford says the disc is "about loss and the feeling of violation that results, more importantly perhaps it's about the steps we all take to recover from loss." Anger and frustration are involved, also ritual, melancholy, a whole spectrum. A fascinating puzzle disc. ΔΔΔ½

For those who prefer post-rock outfits that stray into jazz territory, this one is for you. A trio of clarinet, drums, and an N/S Stick (a stringed instrument that doubles as guitar and bass). Lots of primal screaming and throaty missives, with a pleasant undercurrent of drums and percussion. Some cool music here that sometimes rocks, sometimes floats on a sea of tranquility.