TAYLOR HASKINS & GREEN EMPIRE RELEASE THE POINT, A RADICAL DEPARTURE FEATURING ANALOG EVI (electronic valve instrument), PEDAL STEEL, ACOUSTIC GUITAR, BASS AND DRUMS

Based deep in New York’s northern Adirondack mountains, Haskins leads superb Vermont musicians in a boundlessly lyrical sonic adventure; 
Green Empire not just a band, but trumpeter/composer Haskins’ notion of an “imagined utopia” where environmental priorities prevail

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Describing it as “the most experimental project I’ve done, despite its sweet and melodic sound,” versatile trumpeter/composer and New Hampshire native Taylor Haskins premieres his unorthodox new quintet Green Empire on The Point [Street Date, Label Info TK].

Featuring Haskins exclusively on the rare Steiner/Crumar analog EVI (electronic valve instrument), with Brett Lanier on pedal steel, Michael Chorney on acoustic guitar, Robinson Morse on bass and Geza Carr on drums, Green Empire reveals a magical, almost folkish electro-acoustic sound world — totally unlike Haskin’s jazz-electronica project Gnosis from earlier this year, but just as bold in its way.

“These are musicians that live in Vermont, across the lake from me,” Haskins says. “I’ve been living deep in the Adirondacks near Lake Champlain for over seven years and have developed friendships with these gents. It’s really a band: it’s not ‘just a gig’ to anyone involved, it’s something that happens when we all come together. The guys were working as a unit before I met them, in Michael Chorney’s band Hollar General. I basically pilfered the band because I loved the sound so much.”

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There’s a pronounced environmentalist theme to the album and the band in general: Green Empire is Haskins’ imagined ideal of a society guided by wisdom in matters relating to nature, energy production, medicine and food. “It’s a lone flying paper lantern that contains a sincere wish for the future,” Haskins says of The Point. “I see the album as a longing for this utopia, a longing for an eternal spring.”

Living in such a sparsely populated region, Haskins has seen young people arrive in recent years to undertake year-round diversified farming, and he now gets the vast majority of his food this way. “Theme for a Farmer” is dedicated to these local farmers, “the people who are working the hardest to create the Green Empire.” It’s notable that in addition to his music, Haskins helped found and then served on the board of Essex Farm Institute, and recently began work as a multimedia producer on a new magazine called Implement, which aims to promote his local farm community and its offshoots.

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Presiding over Green Empire as a sonic centerpiece is the Steiner/Crumar EVI, which Haskins first saw played by Marshall Allen in a video of the Sun Ra Arkestra. Captivated by the ethereal, rich and intimate sound, he went searching for one. “There are fewer than 200 of these in existence,” he reports. “When mine arrived and I blew the first few notes I got pretty emotional… I almost cried. I’d heard about the EVI for many years, but thought it was a MIDI controller, which was always a turn-off for me. But it’s a 100-percent analog synthesizer and not a MIDI controller. This an instrument. A true instrument, complete in and of itself, with an incredible sound on par with a Moog Model D, but it’s played like a trumpet. It seemed too good to be true.”

He continues: “It took me almost two years to be comfortable playing the thing in public. It has a seven-octave range which is accessed not only by pressing valve-like buttons, but also by turning a cylinder on the end which also has a ‘half-octave’ button, so the seven trumpet fingerings can take you all the way through a full octave. It’s a beast just to get around on, never mind trying to feel free while improvising. It took a lot of work.”

One would never know from the fluidity and polish and the natural singing tone of the EVI in Haskins’ hands. The eerie portamento of the EVI and Lanier’s pedal steel in combination is also one of Green Empire’s most beguiling qualities. The oscillations halfway through “Up North” and at the start of “Trickle Charge,” made by rapidly turning the octave cylinder, give the music an almost alien and mysteriously warm timbre. But these arresting sounds are not mere novelties or trickery. The intricacy, variety and unpredictability of counterpoint, unisons and other details of orchestration make The Point absorbing from start to finish, and Haskins weaves the EVI into that complex fabric at every step.

“I feel like [the EVI] is my voice when I play it,” Haskins marvels. “And at every moment it invites me to experiment and try new things.” This together with Adirondacks’ natural beauty yields some of the most melodically inspired music of Haskins’ career.

“Palisades” refers to a remote area on Lake Champlain with 150-foot cliffs, accessible only by boat. “It’s one of those out-of-time places, where the modern world falls away and you see and feel the work of Father Time over millions of years.” “Dandelion Winter” came about during an unexpected early bloom one February. “Crystal Shore” is “what happens on a lake in winter when the water laps the shore and creates a beautiful, eerie glistening effect in the sand.” “Up North” is both a tribute to Ennio Morricone and a play on “out west,” which is “brown and beige and burnt umber,” says Haskins. “Up north it’s grey, slate blue and dark green. This is all of those combined.”

Every track connects with nature, or living in nature, in some way: “Trickle Charge” is “a constant low-flow charge needed to sustain warmth or energy in a battery. Also, that feeling when winter should be over, you see the first signs of spring and know it’s just a matter of being patient for the eventual reward of green.” “Hunter’s Moon,” also known as the blood moon, is “one of the last well-lit nights for hunting before the cold dark winter sets in. It happens in November, my birth month, and has a profound mystic energy. Native Americans believe that the ‘veil between worlds’ is at its thinnest and contact with the spiritual realm easiest on this night.”

Finally, the title track, “The Point,” evokes how “when we stand out on the end of a point that juts into the water, our perspective increases, our peripheral vision increases, the horizon becomes more clearly defined, and we get a better sense of our place on the planet. Being out on a point like this can bring one closer to “the point.”

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