“The Source” is Cory Allen’s seventh solo release, and the second to feature mostly acoustic instrumentation. The switch to acoustic instruments occurred with his previous album “The Great Order”, but the new work shifts the goalposts once more, breaking new ground while retaining certain features that have remained distinctively Allen’s throughout his discography. This new ground is the full expression of the influences of both Indian classical music and free jazz; Allen calls the results “psychedelic minimalism”, though whatever you call it, it sounds pretty great.
From the opening cymbal swoosh and laconic bass riff, the album breathes a deep, ritualistic air. The peace pipe of melody passes round tanpura, cello, harmonium, and Hammond before finding its way back to the bass again, the founding note of the circle. On top of and threaded through all of this is a drum kit, rolling and splashing its way in between all the other instruments. What is recognisable here as the artist’s signature, harking back as far as 2009’s “Hearing Is Forgetting The Name Of The Thing One Hears”, is the skill with which the distribution of multiple moving parts in time and space is accomplished. The pace may be slow and steady, but everything is audibly in motion, and everything has its place in the choreography — one is free to zoom in to admire each finely-tuned detail, or zoom out to take in the vertigo-inducing whole. The zooming is smooth thanks to great playing from Allen and his co-conspirators Brent Fariss on bass, Henna Chou on cello, and Lyman Hardy on drums, as well as excellent mastering.
Such is the profound depths from which its melodies spring forth that “The Source” could easily be the soundtrack for the cinema of the Universe. The eternal waves of drone sometimes rise in an ecstatic crescendo, only to settle again, anchored once more by that bass walking out a two-note pattern, into a serene finale that blazes with the certainty of being. Allen can’t claim to have invented free jazz drumming or tanpura ragas, but while a lot of the techniques used here are perhaps nothing new in the extended galaxy of drone-worlds, to hear them declared with such certainty and clarity is as delightful as it is convincing. Everything that might read as a recipe for psychedelic kitsch on paper absolutely works on record; the throat-singing is just great! “The Source” is Allen’s most confident and assured statement to date, and it demonstrates a level of mastery that previous releases only hinted at. Go listen.