AMN Reviews: Secret People – Secret People (2022; Out Of Your Head Records)

Simply put, if you like Tim Berne, you need to hear Secret People. Not that this trio of New-York-based musicians is necessarily sounding just like Berne, but their style of hyper-complex jazz-rock compositions coupled with exploratory improv certainly falls into the same bucket. For that matter, another point of reference is pianist / keyboardist Matt Mitchell, whose collaborations with Berne as well as members of Secret People serve as a bridge.

Consisting of Kate Gentile on drums and vibes, Dustin Carlson on electric guitar and 6-string bass, and Nathaniel Morgan on sax, this self-titled release is the group’s debut even though they have played together for some time. It was recorded in 2019, perhaps a musical victim of the pandemic finally coming to light.

In any event, most of the album exhibits intricate and carefully-composed lines that will tie your brain in knots. These labyrinthine arrangements are both fast and dense with a penchant for extended melodies that vary thematically rather than strictly repeating. Nonetheless, the group maintains a raw, organic feel with Carlson’s distorted guitar coloring outside the lines. These excursions lead the group into more open-ended spaces – downtempo textural improvisation and the like, with Gentile making heavy use of cymbals while Morgan squeaks and wails. Such use of extended techniques result in some passages being virtually ambient in nature.

Failing to recognize Gentile’s contributions would be irresponsible. As we have written in the past, she is a brilliantly supple percussionist who provides undanceable beats and patterns as a matter of course. Her writing and playing are all over this album, and the effort is that much richer for it.

Secret People comes out on April 29 from Out of Your Head Records. Don’t hesitate.