“This is improvisation-driven music, right at the corner of jazz and post-rock, but there are none of the showy, full-band misdirections that have become so typical of jazz today...something increasingly rare today: group exploration with little flexing or hurry, electric guitar melodies that sound like open promises”
-The New York Times
Hungry Ghost, the title of Typical Sisters’ new album from Outside in Music, refers to the Chinese Buddhist idea of a being whose appetites cannot be sated. In 2019, when smartphones are essentially a human appendage, governments are corporatized and the media cycle never rests, it’s a concept that all but defines our reality.
Consider, then, this thoughtful, immersive music by guitarist Gregory Uhlmann, bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Matt Carroll as a kind of antidote—the yang to our 21st-century yin, or, as Carroll puts it, “optimism amidst impulse.” With the melodic and structural focus of rock or folk, a sense of musicianship and interplay rooted in jazz, and production aspects that pull from experimental music and DJ culture, Hungry Ghost is equally distinctive and evocative. In these reflective soundscapes, one can hear the maverick jazz guitar of Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot and Jakob Bro; the krautrock of Can and the post-rock of Tortoise; the ambient fusion that begins with Miles’ In a Silent Way and ’70s ECM LPs; the sun-faded scores of Ennio Morricone and Ry Cooder; the psychedelic funk of Khruangbin; Reich-ian minimalism; and more.
Despite these record-geek-worthy references, though, style doesn’t obscure substance; a feeling of craft and deliberation characterizes these nine tracks, even when the band is engrossed in improvisation. Typical Sisters is a singular instance in which the tag “songwriter” applies to jazz-trained musicians more readily than “composer.”
The members of Typical Sisters come to that song- and album-oriented mindfulness through genre-spanning experience. Uhlmann (and producer, Tim Carr) are veterans of the mathy indie act Fell Runner; Carroll anchors the powerfully tuneful songwriting of Macie Stewart and Sima Cunningham in Ohmme; and Sommers’ credits range from the inviting avant-jazz of his trio Ba(SH) to touring the world with jazz vocalist Kurt Elling. “In Typical Sisters, we understand that it’s about the architecture of the tune and the melody of the tune first,” Sommers says. But “the music is also performative,” Carroll points out, “and never played the same way twice.”
“Throughout the process of making this music, we intended to establish a kind of balance within each atmosphere,” Sommers explains. “In life, our goal is to find these systems of balance.”