Rafael Toral ‘Spectral Evolution’ LP
Pre-order. Due 23rd February.
After a two-decade interlude, Jim O’Rourke’s Moikai returns with Spectral Evolution, a major new work by Rafael Toral. Making his name in the mid-1990s with influential guitar drone platters like ‘Sound Mind Sound Body’ and ‘Wave Field’ (both reissued by Drag City in recent years), Toral has never been one to rest on his laurels repeating his past glories.
In the early years of the 21st century, Toral laid the guitar aside, along with the focus on extended tones that had defined much of his music until that point. He began his ‘Space Program’, a thirteen-year investigation of the performance possibilities of an ever-expanding set of custom electronic instruments, played with a fluid phrasing and rhythmic flexibility inspired by jazz. Dedicated to honing his skills on these idiosyncratic instruments, Toral has performed with them extensively both solo and in many collaborations, including in his Space Quartet, where his mini-amplifier feedback integrates seamlessly into the frontline of a classic post-free jazz quartet rounded out with saxophone, double bass, and drums.
Since 2017, Toral’s work has been entering a new phase, often still centred around the arsenal of self-built instruments developed in the Space Program, but with a renewed interest in the long tones and almost static textures of his earlier work; he has also, after more than a decade, returned to the electric guitar. ‘Spectral Evolution’ is undoubtedly Toral’s most sophisticated work to date, bringing together seemingly incompatible threads from his entire career into a powerful new synthesis, both wildly experimental and emotionally affecting.
The record begins with a brief ‘Intro’ that sets the stage for the unique sound world explored throughout the remainder of its duration: over sparkling clean guitar figures, Toral stages a duet between two streams of modulated feedback, seeming less electronic than like mutant takes on a muted trumpet and an ocarina. This segues seamlessly into the stunning ‘Changes’, where a dense array of Space instruments solo with wild abandon over a thick carpet of slowly moving chords, growing increasingly chaotic over the course of eight minutes yet always fastened to the lush harmonic foundation.
On these and many other moments on the record, Toral manages the almost miraculous feat of having his self-built electronic instruments (which in the past he had seen as ‘inadequate to play any music based on the Western system’) play in tune. In an unexpected sidestep away from any of his previous work, the chord changes that underpin many of the episodes on ‘Spectral Evolution’ are derived from classic jazz harmony, including takes on the archetypal Gershwin ‘Rhythm Changes’ and Ellington-Strayhorn’s ‘Take the ‘A’ Train’, albeit slowed to such an extent that each chord becomes a kind of environment in its own right.
Threading together twelve distinct episodes into a flowing whole, ‘Spectral Evolution’ alternates moments of airy instrumental interplay with dense sonic mass, breaking up the pieces based on chord changes with ambient ‘Spaces’. At points reduced to almost a whisper, at other moments Toral’s electronics wail, squelch, and squeak like David Tudor’s live-electronic rainforest. Similarly, his use of the guitar encompasses an enormous dynamic and textural range, from chiming chords to expansive drones, from crystal clarity to fuzzy grit: on the beautiful ‘Your Goodbye’, his filtered, distorted soloing recalls Loren Connors in its emotive depth and wandering melodic sensibility.
The product of three years of experimentation and recording and synthesizing the insights of more than thirty years of musical research, ‘Spectral Evolution’ is the quintessential album of guitar music from Rafael Toral.
Catalogue number: M14