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Jasper Lee

Jasper Lee has just dropped the Sgt. Peppers of Montevallo, Alabama; press photo courtesy of the artist/Noumenal Loom.
Jasper Lee has just dropped the Sgt. Peppers of Montevallo, Alabama; press photo courtesy of the artist/Noumenal Loom.

As we have observed with everything from micro-labels to the free-thinking individual casting their support for artist & causes that matter in our current international climate of unrest—the only thing that remains clear & abundant here & now in the wake of things with the state of matters in 2017 is that it is time for the little folks to shine brighter than ever before. As the enlightened & conscious world awakens & constructively responds & resists in the face of unbelievable odds; this is the time for the lionhearted & hungry eyed visionaries to make their magnum opus. All obscure artists seem to now be emerging into the limelight that formerly never could before as the absolute chaos of these times has enabled the vintage Sly & the Family Stone truism to ring realer than ever that states that everybody is a star.
Montevallo, Alabama’s own son Jasper Lee is a part of this grand shared constellation of global luminaries. Gifting the world with Noumenal Loom’s third ever released LP vinyl; we are proud to present the following listen to the brilliant full-length Mirror of Wind followed by a conversation with the artist. The opening title track sets the tone for an adventure that traverses through numerous styles, genres & more. The following number “Quaint Gothic Spring” turns all trad-steezes inside-out as Lee exhibits an adept ability to make the most medieval of trends feel trending in today’s environments. Further wonders are unfurled on the psychedelic mind-spring of “Bamboo Shack” that combines free-form jazz with other found sound blends of the surreal. And that mode continues forward as heard on the eastern leaning meditations of “Hex Prism Palace”, the expansive bliss fields experiences on “Unbound” that literally exists without grounding, and this is where things get weird & into those ineffable categories that some flutter words like genius around on the ultra-ambitious song “Veil of Crocus” that college students could write theses on. “Primeval Currents” exhibits a slice of experimental jazz ambiance, with “Lough Derg” continuing the eastern trend with woodwinds, as “Milk of Air”, right before closing out with “Asleep a Hundred Years” taking the listener to a dojo of shimmering shards of intrigue by mixing brass and melodic, organic forms of percussion that are mixed with the field sounds of the ebb & tide of foaming shore waters. Read our exclusive interview with the one & only Jasper Lee after the following listen.

Describe the sketching & drafting process in pre-production for the making of Mirror of Wind.
I went through a period when I listened to nothing but Exotica……I had a neighbor who was from the Virgin Islands and he listened to nothing but dub reggae. He would jam it loud while working on his car outside and it would mingle with my Les Baxter records and me and my bunny really enjoyed that. I would take my record player outside and play music for the plants in the garden…I’m really fascinated by playing music into the landscape….and also putting the landscape into the music. At the same time I was making pilgrimages to a magical place called the Alabaster Thrift Store. This place was a real treasure trove…they had a lot of what you call bric-a-brac….esoteric objects and décor that had been hanging up on somebody’s wood-paneled ranch house wall since 1959. It’s all about timing….because around this time, a lot of older folks who had come-of age in the 1940s were passing away. And all of their collections and belongings were being dropped off at the thrift store by their kids or grand-kids. So there were all these relics from the post-war era, when the economy was booming and lots of people were going on vacations to exotic countries or taking cruises to the Caribbean…a lot of souvenirs is what they brought back. Sometimes well-crafted native wares, sometimes cheap mementos slapped together for the tourists. Over time, they all got mixed together and ended up in Alabaster. Searching through these things, the distinction between what is a genuine relic and what is a cheap knick-knack is blurred and everything becomes equal in value. We liked to go look in the “Wooden Things” section…..everything was divided by material: wood, metal, electronic, porcelain, cloth. In the wooden section were sometimes hidden musical instruments, like zithers or tiny fake bongos, and the employees didn’t know any better, so you could get something that was pretty good for maybe four dollars. The best was when Kathleen found a big Rhumba Box. You can hear this instrument on “Bamboo Shack” and “Asleep A Hundred Years”. I was inspired to make my own music with all these found objects…I wanted to take that as far as I could…using almost exclusively acoustic sounds…building instruments…I made a set of wood blocks out of a bunk-bed frame I found by a dumpster…I made a xylophone out of the bamboo growing behind the Grey Gables…I made jangle wands out of sticks and bottle caps….just trying to recycle whatever materials were around…I designed something I call the Pyraharp, using an octagonal box, ceiling fan and piano wire…I played these until they became an essential part of my language.
What sorts of things where playing about your mind & consciousness during this album’s creation?
Henri Rousseau, magical realist literature, One Hundred Years of Solitude, wondering what exoticism means to me, thinking of saxophones as ghosts, chimes as chains breaking free, stepping out of one world into another, the fear of transitioning into new stages of life, the sadness of uncertainty, thinking about my grandfather Babbitt.
Also, I wanted to utilize music to respond to my environment and to distant cultures simultaneously. I lived in a place called the Grey Gables, which is an old house in a tiny town called Montevallo, Alabama. For me, this house was the most enchanted house in this very beautiful, bucolic, strange little town. People say Montevallo is like the Twin Peaks of Alabama. At the Gables I found lots of relics previous residents had left there…mosaics in the ground, gourds hung in the trees. There was a clan of black feral cats that lived around there…you can hear one of them, Le Papa, running through the wind at the beginning of the record. One spring, when the weather was changing and it felt neither hot nor cold outside, I would leave the window open and go to sleep while listening to this one Antônio Carlos Jobim record. My record player was an ancient one from the Alabaster Thrift Store, and it had a setting for 16rpm. I would play this record at half speed and just drift off into another dimension. The music was like a fog that blended with the crickets and frogs outside. Sometimes I wouldn’t fall asleep, but would be laying there in reverie for hours listening to this record over and over, staring at shadows moving on the wall. The walls were painted like a blue and green landscape and I felt that I was drifting into this landscape and floating along a river at dusk. When I think back on it now, this image of being transported to another place feels like a real memory. I went somewhere else! And it was possible through the right combination of music, lighting, time of year, place and state of mind….like a magic formula. This music I listened to was the perfect record for that room, in that house, in that town, at that time. I was compelled to respond to this sensory experience. Asleep A Hundred Years is the result.
Describe how you achieve this whole otherworldly dimension of sound that seems like it comes from some kind of enchanted place.
Very careful selection of instruments and tunings. Very pure sounds…chimes, bells, flutes, vibraphone, harps…I think certain instruments are made to focus certain types of intention…they help you shape your mind into its most beautiful and open state through precise physical actions and controlled breathing…when all these pure tonal waves are cascading into each other it creates a spiritual energy that is palpable.
Give us the story too about making elaborate song suites like “Quaint Gothic Spring”, and what sorts of disciplines are involved.
A lot of my songs come with prologues and epilogues for some reason…..In “Quaint Gothic Spring”, the middle section came first. All I had for a while was “down by the spillway at dark, the Order of the Eastern Star is singing in a round…” Which is another allusion to strange things going on where I lived….The introduction and the up-tempo verses came later as separate ideas, and I thought it would be interesting to join everything together rather than have 3 different songs. I like that it shifts in tempo and time signature from section to section. Ballads are one of those song forms that can just ramble on and hold a lot of information……it felt appropriate for this one to have a multi-dimensionality to it with different “movements”…..A similar thing happens in Veils of Crocus and Asleep A Hundred Years…….I really love to join segments of songs together that have stark contrasts, but share a thread of similarity……it’s like the music being refracted through a prism and on one side it’s slow, languid and green and the other side is more rosy orange and nimble, and it just keeps turning into something else….Quaint Gothic Spring was one of the first recordings made for the album, and I was excited to involve some great players on woodwinds, strings and voices. These people really make the music shine. The well known improvisor LaDonna Smith plays viola, Sean Hogan plays flute, Brad Davis plays drums and Leah Hamby sings. Leah is a longtime collaborator and her voice inspires me deeply.
What else are you listening to, writing, reading, etc right now?
Listening to Syrinx, Steeleye Span, the Soft Verdict, Visible Cloaks, Davy Graham, Minerals, Sun Ra….
Reading Irish folklore, Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar, Heat Waves in a Swamp: the Paintings of Charles Burchfield, Sculpting In Time by Andrei Tarkovsky. Watching Antonioni and Tarkovsky films and writing mantras….