540,000 views, 650 comments, a Takuya Karoda playlist recommended in the YouTube sidebar. In 2017, these are the accolades of a new, brilliant, genre-defining jazz record. Oops, did I say record? Well that’s a little misleading, because Alfa Mist’s Antiphon is only available as a Bandcamp download, and maybe as an incandescent stream for Apple Music subscribers, but I really wouldn’t know. No vinyl, no Blue Note, no top 40 charts: just a fleeting possibility of hearing what might become one of your favorite collections of the decade. But Antiphon is so beautiful (angelic?), perhaps a digital phantasm is all it ever should be.
Something Dave Chappelle said in his new stand-up on NetFlix perfectly summed up this generation’s relationship with digital content, and it’s been on my mind ever since. He singled out some bright-faced, *as-featured-on-Tindr* millennial in the crowd and addressed him as though he were speaking to everybody currently under 30. Dave explained that he remembered watching the Challenger space shuttle blow up on TV as a kid, and how it was a BIG deal back then. But now, he went on, a Challenger figuratively blows up every day, so no one gives a shit anymore. In other words, someone’s mind is being blown by some 15-second video on Facebook every minute of our lives, so that sense of wonderment, even surprise, has almost been choked out of humanity.
(“I was trained to care!” Dave hilariously rebuked the millennial)
Such is the cultural geography of the internet. We’re talking the ancients’ fabled Book of Life, the Library of the Universe, containing EVERYTHING the imagination could possibly possess, but our routine exposure to its multitudes has made us jaded, complacent, and, dare I say…bored? So when I see that a London-based, contemporary jazz group named Alfa Mist has put out a GEM of a project tantalizingly called Antiphon with viral numbers on YT and dope baroque cover art to boot, the crazed click-happy audiophile in me is like “GOD, YES!”, but the algorithm-drunk, seen-it-all snob on the other shoulder just looks and says “Yah, whatever. We haven’t checked our notifications in three minutes.”
It’s weird. But you know what? I chose wonderment, and the gods of the internet have rewarded me again.
*makes iPhone sacrifice in front of an altar*
While I’m somewhat confused as to how I’ll listen to this beautiful album in the long-term, Antiphon is worth whatever price demanded. It’s like the spirit of jazz leaped out of some crevice and lifted me by the nape of my neck all the way up to a harvest moon. Immersive, reflective, seamless, lyrical, dynamic. This is the jazz that automatically mesmerizes you, like how the ocean glistens at midnight as you drink it in with your feet caught in the sand. The depths of Antiphon are endless. Alfa Mist has composed something with subtle, somber currents, speaking volumes, cradling the listener in a chromatic river stretching out to the horizon.
“Julian, what the hell are you talking about?”
I don’t know, think Wayne Shorter. Think Chick Corea, Pat Metheney, with the hip-hop stylings of Christian Scott, the audacity of Kamasi Washington. They all live through Alfa Mist, along with voices never been given voice to before, stabbing through the darkness of their own previous nonexistence. Antiphon isn’t a gem, it’s a geode. Check Medvedeva’s saxophone canticle on “Errors”, reaching to the very rafters of Coltrane’s cathedral, or the way our eponymous pianist (yes, Alfa Mist) syncopates catchy, svelte melodies, leaving a single flower at Herbie Hancock’s spirit-house. I don’t know, have I successfully expressed how good this new jazz is? Imagine if someone live-streamed the painting of a new composition very similar to Terrace of A Cafe at Night by van Gogh, but sacreligiously better.
I repeat: this isn’t on the Verve label, or Columbia…it’s on someone’s Bandcamp.
What’s really cool about Antiphon, too, is that it was conceived as a kind of dialogue about mental health. Interspersed throughout the songs are fiery, passionate vocal snippets discussing certain fine points about the societal perception of eccentric souls, about human relationships, about learning how to cope with the way reality IS. These fleeting moments of discussion give each song a thought-provoking subtext that progressively flowers out through the chord changes, choruses and solos in a way that’s almost meta-conceptual.
According to Alfa himself, Antiphon is “the sound I’ve always kind of had, but I’ve had to hold back producing for others…the word I give it is ‘unapologetic’–this is how I’d make my music if I was doing it 100% for myself, and not for what people like…it’s not jazzy enough for the jazzers, it’s not easy enough for the easy listeners…so yeah, I was kind of apprehensive about getting this out, but it’s just a leap of faith on my part.” 540,00 views and (hopefully) many purchases later, I’d have to think Mr. Alfa Mist is feeling fulfilled: a searing, creative act received with universal applause is what we all dream of. We, the listeners, on the other hand, have nothing to fear but our own well-bred apathy.
“Wait, so who are these guys, again?”
I don’t know, man, I just found them on YouTube last night.