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Ferment Below

by Jacob Shulman

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Hole-in-One 05:01
Moments Away 07:17
Soft 05:50
Delicatessen 06:27


Left in the sun, the sugars in fruit will bubble and transform. Sweet becomes toxic; toxic becomes gourmet, fragrant, transcendent. It is in the very nature of sugar to ferment, to reach for dangerous yet alluring chemicals. All it takes is time.

Jazz happens at night, along with drink, dance, and seduction: human activities where you give yourself up. None of these activities work in solitude, and none of them work if you rush through. In conversational games like these, only a fraction of the ideas bubbling beneath the surface ever materialize. Every word, every note, every step conceals a hundred others that could have been. And so there is no purity or perfection; every idea, like every person, is somewhere along a process, never in one place for too long. A jazz composer may draw inspiration from a brewer who wields forces outside of his strict control. An improviser may draw inspiration from a dancer whose steps are never quite determined until the very moment they land.

It feels dangerous to offer yourself up like that. You can trade in your individuality for religious cohesion or Dionysian rapture, those come with no guarantee, no warranty. The sublime slips out of all but the most humble grips. It's fun to gamble, though. Every moment in jazz lives on a tightrope, just as every fruit lives somewhere between unripe and rotten. What a miracle it is, then, that the giants of jazz bet big and never miss! Every moment of Thelonious Monk sidesteps disaster by the tiniest sliver and lands right on the money. Every line Coleman Hawkins weaves tempts the mechanisms of music to crash his ambitions, but he never flies close enough to the Sun to burn. It is like a coin landing on its side, every time — a human affront to probability. Ornette Coleman deployed melodies-as-Trojan-horses: the veneer of singability softens the chaos of democracy, makes palatable the inherent dissonance of four people traveling through time, semi-together. The perverse truth is that we prefer art that flirts with failure. No danger, no stakes; no fire, no urgency. This is why a deterministic algorithm, no matter how opaque, will never replace a living, breathing musician. A machine may learn in some sense of the word, but it can never yearn.

Moreover, humans are farthest from machines when the nocturnal spirit takes over, when chemicals from within and without corrupt the rational, deterministic daytime mood that enables us to act as economic agents, workers in corporations. Jazz musicians smoke, drink, and otherwise damage their bodies not out of masochism but out of a dark sort of humility; a perfect body is a fiction, an impossibility. So too a perfect soul, a perfect thought, a perfect solo. The imperfect spark of chaos — the highest degree of sensitivity — is irreplaceable in right-now music. Indeed, the music we play and hear is, in so many ways, coincidental: just the rare bubbles that breach the membrane of consciousness.

So are we foolish to record jazz, to get up early and commit to tape individual performances for no audience? Am I insane to even attempt to simulate the multidimensional psychology of jazz, the continuous flow of half-decisions and big bets? Perhaps. But we are no more foolish than the listener who gambles her night off on untested music that has never happened before and will never happen again. I am no more foolish than a sculptor whose art is to subtract from a natural and perfect stone until it reminds him of flesh. A fool can learn to swing. An angel cannot.

—Jacob Shulman, Summer 2023


released February 29, 2024

Jacob Shulman ⋅ tenor saxophone and clarinets
Hayoung Lyou ⋅ piano
Walter Stinson ⋅ bass
Kayvon Gordon ⋅ drums

Recorded by by Quinn McCarthy and Lee Meadvin ⋅ Produced, edited, mixed, and mastered by Lee Meadvin ⋅ Cover art and design by Knar Hovakimyan ⋅ Liner notes by Jacob Shulman


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Jacob Shulman Los Angeles, California

b. 1994

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