Eric Wallack and Greg Segal
Asleep or Somewhere Else
Phantom Airship Records
In a world dominated by cookie-cutter, ready-made bands churned out in droves by the major labels to fill whatever market niche happens to be at the top of their list, it’s a relief to know there are still truly original musicians out there making interesting music completely off the major-label radar. As those of you who’ve read my Ink19 interview with him already know, Greg Segal is one of those true originals. Earning a reputation as “guitarist of a thousand sounds” for his work with the improvisational rock/jazz band Paper Bag in the 1980s, Greg long ago chose to go his own way, making his own music on his own label so he could retain complete creative control. Asleep or Somewhere Else is Greg’s first collaboration with Eric Wallack, another independent musician who specializes in homemade instruments and plays just about everything you can think of, from guitar to upright bass, flute to drums, sax to keyboards.
Asleep is a truly mind-expanding, refreshing change from commercial music. For one thing, it’s almost impossible to pigeonhole into any one category. Many of the tracks have a prog-rock sound tinged with blues a la early Pink Floyd or Hawkwind, but others have more of a Fripp-and-Eno ambient atmosphere; some are jazzy or funky, and still others are highly experimental. One unifying theme, though, is an improvisational, free-form aesthetic. Another is an overall meditative, twilight-to-dawn kind of feel.
It’s hard for me to single out individual tracks from the album to praise, because I like pretty much all of them. Occasionally, a particular line of improvisational inquiry might seem to meander on a bit too long for its own good, but even these “dead ends” always lead the listener somewhere interesting. Having said that, though, I’m more a fan of meditative, darker ambience than anything else these days, and thus I gravitate towards a number of tracks in that vein on Asleep.
On “Tape Before Dawn,” electric guitars and live loops coolly cascade down from the heavens, like gray trickles of light seeping their way into a sleep-darkened valley. “The Purple Life” pairs Eric’s sax and Greg’s electric guitar in full-out free jazz: joyful at first, glorying in exploration and freedom, then slowly shifting to a more menacing feel as you become more aware of the things at the edges of your awareness, waiting their chance to creep into your reality, their tentatively questing tentacles brushing wetly across your brow as they search for the cracks in the doors separating their world from yours. “Soft Glass” combines smooth electric guitar drones and loops with percussive, water-glass like chimes. The loops give the track a very meditative feel, and combined with the chime-percussion, they remind me of the colored patterns you can see in a wine glass if you turn it towards the light just so, or the sounds snowflakes might make as they fall from the sky if we could hear them, tumbling against each other like grains of frozen sand, each ringing and sparkling with its own unique tone.