Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

May/June 2016: Kamasi Washington (Festival Edition)

Tortoise: The Winds of Change

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There is something uniquely bold about the music of Tortoise, a post-rock band from Chicago, Illinois. Tortoise’s style borrows from multiple genres such as jazz, electronica and psychedelic rock. Instrumentation for this band includes many acoustic and electric instruments like vibraphone, melodica, and synth, resulting in rich soundscapes with many layers. Development is the band’s strong suit: listeners can expect to hear early ideas of each song repeated later with countermelodies and new harmony.

Tortoise brings an immense energy to the stage and solo sections often develop into a full wall of sound. Several of their songs, like “TNT” and “Swing from the Gutters,” include a backbeat and pentatonic guitar riffs, with electronic instruments playing the supporting harmony.

Since forming in 1990, Tortoise has released seven studio recordings, and their 1996 album Millions Now Living Will Never Die showed up on many year-end best lists. Their latest album The Catastrophist is a major shift in style: it is their first album to include vocals and incorporates more electronic instruments.  “Gesceap,” their single from that album, borders on trance music but features many acoustic instruments and incorporates polyrhythms and syncopation.  

The five current members—John McEntire, Doug McCombs, John Herndon, Jeff Parker, Dan Bitney—are all multi-instrumentalists with an impressive array of individual projects. When they come together as Tortoise at the West End Cultural Centre on June 23, Winnipeggers will have a chance to hear their refined, challenging, very contemporary sound. See you there!

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