Now that the ’70s are over, let’s reinvent the word “fusion” for a new millennium. Swords of Truth, the new album by the Ulster County-based Prismatic Mantis, is music that you can comfortably call fusion without referencing the smooth jazz, free-form blowing and lite funk of the wide-collared ’70s. Composer/multi-instrumentalist Mark Reynolds, drummer Brian St. Pierre and a small coterie of guests fuse electro and acoustic, jazz, folk and rock, ambient minimalism and club-beat glitch across this album’s nine remarkably well-developed and focused tracks. More profoundly, they fuse aesthetic purposes as well, as this is an album designed to challenge the listener, yes, but also to transport her and promote deep focus with sonic mandalas, meditative pattern art and a lexicon of groove that could at times be called “world” and at other times simply otherworldly.
Complexity abounds in the odd meters (that always seem fluid, never gratuitous), in the breakneck execution of difficult passages, in the skittish groove architecture of ADHD micro-masterpieces like “Peanut Butter and Butter” and in the expansive sound palette that the wildly skilled Reynolds employs (mostly by his own hand). But the keyword here is focus: Reynolds always honors the macro, the transportive purpose of his complex art, and the details never overpower that fundamentally magical intent.
By the end, a lot of styles have been referenced in a non-binding way. Many listeners will reflexively (and erroneously) think “Zappa” because of the occasional mallet percussion, the intricate modal passages and the patches of shredded guitar. One of the record’s handful of vocal tracks, “Forgiveness” (featuring guest vocalist/lyricist Lindsey Buckley), evokes some of the celestial fusion of Chick Corea and Return to Forever (not the legendary early RTF, but the oft-and-unfairly-maligned Gayle Moran era, for those keeping score). Extended passages in other tunes seem modeled after the patient pattern science of Steve Reich (Reichian veteran Doug Perkins performs on the title track). Other tunes rock and swing in more comforting and familiar ways. And on the record’s finale, “Space Brother and Sisterhood Calling,” Prismatic Mantis lays all the skittering complexity to rest: The tune is a seven-plus-minute meditation on a single, slowly morphing, three-dimensional pad sound. Your attention has been redirected within. Goodnight.
When Reynolds is not spending the thousands of hours that it obviously took to write, arrange and perform this extreme labor-of-love and vastly impressive music, he plays bass in the popular New Paltz area band the Breath Collective. Breath Collective is a dynamic art-rock band clearly schooled on Radiohead and Jeff Buckley, but with a devotion to in-the-moment, ecstatic improvisation that I will, with no small discomfort, call “jam” – but only because I am interested in rescuing that term from its abusers, just as I am interested in waking the term “fusion” from its decades of cultural shame.
Reynolds, then, emerges as a man with a mytho-musical purpose. Running through the song titles and liner notes on Swords of Truth is a kind of futurist sci-fi ruse à la Sun Ra: “Extraterrestrial Throwback Recorded & Decoded for Humans,” Reynolds writing, seemingly implying that his music comes both from space and from the future. Half tongue-in-cheek/half-serious is my guess. Works for me.
Learn more about Prismatic Mantis at https://prismaticmantis.bandcamp.com.