Escaper is a Brooklyn-based quintet that effortlessly fuses rock music and jazz. The CD “Skeleton Key” is the group’s first full-length release. It follows a single release from 2016. The name Escaper is appropriate. The soundscapes created here are at once surrealistic and psychedelic at times, while also using some of the organ work that recalls the sound of 1970s progressive rock. The original surrealists represented various fine and performing art forms and aimed to rid the world of the constraints of logic. This CD works in a surrealistic way. The mind-blowing structure of each song takes listeners out of not only their everyday lives, but also out of their expectations for what jazz should sound like, even when it is mixed with rock music. Escaper helps listeners do exactly that—escape.
The title track is also the first song. If track placement means anything, then this eye-opener is well-placed to introduce prospective fans to the sound of Escaper. With so much intention found in the band’s name, listeners would be remiss to ignore the purpose of the song names. This is where it begins, where preconceived notions are unlocked and cast away.
A horn recitative calls out and guitars and percussion answer. The sound is mildly psychedelic. However, when the drum kick in, an unmistakable groove begins. The CD has been unlocked, and the receptive listener is along, gleefully, for the ride. A triplet-based bass line makes the track danceable, even though an organ riff that could have been left over from the days of Emerson, Lake, & Palmer is playing at the same time.
If listeners are not careful, the first and second songs on the release will meld into each other. The result is at least two-fold—it will be necessary to listen to song one again, which is enjoyable, and then, to watch the display to note what instrumentation occurs at the end of the first song and how that matches up with the beginning of the second song. The entire effect of having gotten lost between two songs is pleasantly disorienting. The band creates another world with sonic mastery. Plenty of modern songs can create other worlds and craft imagery with lyrics, but none of them have ever made me get lost, literally. It is one of the aspects of the recording that I admire most.
“Mutiny” opens with a lively crack of drums. Staccato rhythms from drums and horns serve as motifs, then the song gives way to lush swell from the organ. Meanwhile, that addictive bass triplet to which listeners have already been introduced, remains.
Anyone familiar with the B-52 classic, “Rock Lobster” has heard the cry of a narwhal replicated in a recording. Here, it is a piercing sound that goes spiraling into the ether, but the motif here is a stomp of guitar and drums. The song itself is a jazz rocker with big drums and searing guitar and nimble bass.
“Skeleton Key” is an impressive debut of new sounds and new ideas that grew out of the decades’ old idea of fusing rock and jazz together.