Lords of Outland is a Northern California collective led by saxophonist Rent Romus for the last quarter-century. They have recorded (if my count is correct) a dozen albums. For the last 15 of these years, the group has consisted of a core trio including Romus, drummer Philip Everett, and bassist Ray Schaeffer. On this effort, they are joined by guitarist Alex Cohen.
From the outset, Romus and crew blaze an adventurous path. The opening track, Grown out of Stone, begins with a jagged, start-stop rhythm before Cohen joins in with speed picking up and down the fretboard. Romus’s contributions move this track comfortably into free jazz territory with rolling leads. To mix things up, Like Tears on Ice follows with a combination of soulful sax playing, spiky guitar, and outside rhythmic excursions.
Cohen, in particular, maintains a frenetic pace that would likely dominate this recording if it were not for his placement in the mix being slightly under that of Romus. When not taking a leading role, Cohen provides a non-stop variety of disjointed notes and microstructures. Romus, on the other hand, focuses his playing on solos as well as defining loose themes.
Perhaps the most outside piece is Revenge of Trees, wherein Everett and Schaeffer display their chaotic improv prowess while Cohen provides discordant, twisted notes to accompany Romus’s blasts. Additional tracks switch up the sound a bit with Cohen on viola or Romus on flute.
Romus has been producing consistently innovative music for three decades and it is a shame that his efforts have not gotten more recognition. While Lords of Outland is only one of his groups, it is perhaps the most audacious. Further, 25 Years Under the Mountain is a grand offering – a great place to start exploring the discography of this veteran outfit.