The Seer gazed into the cosmic mirror of the sky, watching in awe as the sun, his heart, exploded with unimaginable force, a Supernova, expanding infinitely and consuming the universe in an inexorable wave of fire. Yet in the wake of this absolute destruction, stardust scattered throughout the heavens, and as ash and ember gathered together, a single rose sprang from a fragment of earth…In the bursting of his heart, the explosion of his emotions, and the infinity of his love, the universe was reborn.
— Epilogue: Rebirth, from Book of Omens.
Daniel Rosenboom – trumpet and flugelhorn
Vinny Golia – tenor saxophone, alto flute, and contralto clarinet
Jake Vossler – electric guitar
Tim Lefebvre – electric bass and FX
Matt Mayhall – drums
“Rosenboom…sets the controls even further out with the ambitious, genre-mashing Book of Omens…inspired by a myth about the end of time and rebirth of the universe, resulting in songs that range from ominously abstract to explorations of the scorched middle ground between free-blowing experimental jazz and dark metal…the work of a musician dedicated to exploration and expression, regardless of anyone’s imagined boundaries.”
— Chris Barton, Los Angeles Times
ABOUT BOOK OF OMENS
Notes by Daniel Rosenboom and Gary Fukushima
Book of Omens is, in essence, a concept album inspired by an original shamanic myth about the cleansing and reforming of a corrupted universe. The album presents a new sonic zodiac, with 12 distinct chords representing 12 different symbolic “omens” or zodiacal signs, each chord governing the “harmonic astrology” for an entire piece, resulting in a suite of 12 pieces, bookended by a prologue and epilogue that state all 12 chords in succession.
As writer and pianist Gary Fukushima put it: “The music is cataclysmic and chaotic, a terrifying sonic prophecy of universal destruction and rebirth. The aesthetics are undeniably metal, but Book of Omens is also expansive and deconstructive, an illustration of time and space falling into irreparable catastrophe, with moments of incandescent beauty amid violent bursts of raucous groove lashing out in their death throes.”
From an interview with Gary Fukushima:
GF: How did you select the specific members of your band for this project? Can you say just a little bit about each player?
DR: The players for Book of Omens were selected based on an intuition about how they would sound together as a band. In fact the entire project came about as a result of a desire to hear this specific combination of these five individual voices.
Firstly, Vinny Golia and I have a long playing association. In fact, he’s one of my greatest musical mentors. I started studying improvisation with him in 2004 and we’ve been playing consistently ever since in a variety of contexts, including his sextet and large ensemble, as well as my septet and in this project. But for me the choice to include him on this was more about hearing how he would sound with the other players in the group.
Jake Vossler, is absolutely one of my favorite guitar players on the planet. We have also been playing together consistently since 2004, both in our hardcore-Balkan-jazz-rock PLOTZ!, and in a variety of other projects. Jake has one of the heaviest, gnarliest guitar sounds I’ve ever experienced, and is an incredibly sensitive musician. Coming out of a straight-up death metal background, he has seamlessly incorporated elements of Balkan music, Indian music, Blues, and avant-garde jazz and creative improvisation into a completely unique sound on the guitar. He’s one of the most fluid improvisers I’ve ever played with, and studied a bit with Vinny as well. The two of them have a history of duo playing as well, so it was a natural choice for me.
Tim Lefebvre has been one of my favorite bass players since I first heard him play in David Binney’s band at the Blue Whale. I knew immediately that I wanted to work with him, so when we were introduced by Matt Mayhall, I asked him right away if he’d be into playing. He was totally open to the idea and seemed game for anything. The Book of Omens session was actually the first time we ever played together, as well as his first time playing with Vinny and Jake, but as you can tell, everything went completely smoothly. A lot of this music was conceptual improvisation based on specific harmonic structures and verbal instructions: each member of the group had a specific role to play from the story of each movement. Another musician working with me for the first time in this way might have thought I was crazy, but Tim dove right in and was enthusiastic, responsive and detailed about the entire process, and absolutely helped shape the sound of the entire record.
Matt Mayhall and I have had a long association as well, playing as a duo for several years and then playing in my septet and quartet for the last few years. Matt’s an incredibly sensitive drummer who is remarkably interactive and responsive to other improvisers around him. Obviously, this made him the perfect fit for this record – he can be incredibly subtle and can also throw down super heavy shit when the time is right!
As I said before I knew that this was the band I wanted before I even had a title or concept for the project in mind. I just found a date when we were all available to record and figured out what we’d do later!
GF: You said you had the title in mind for the project before it started, and the narrative for it developed as you were recording. Can you explain what the phrase ‘Book of Omens’ means to you, in terms of your interest in mystical history?
DR: Well, as I said above, I booked the band first and then figured out what we’d do. I had over three full months between when we booked the date and when we actually recorded – I think we booked it in mid-December, and we actually recorded on March 31st, 2012 – so there was a lot of time to imagine what things might sound like. However, even with all that time to come up with a project, when it boiled down to it, I knew we weren’t going to have any rehearsal time before session. Everyone in the band is super in-demand and had totally busy overlapping schedules. So the challenge was to come up with a project that would allow everyone a chance to play the way they play naturally, but still be a cohesive, consistent, album-length project, that we could record in a single session on no rehearsal! Hahahahaha…
So, somehow the title Book of Omens came to me out of the ether while driving one day. I had previously done a concept album called Book of Riddles, which was actually my thesis project for my MFA at CalArts and was recorded live by a large 17-piece ensemble. I had always imagined releasing a new “book” every few years, as a sort of on-going series, so when I thought of this title, it seemed natural. Also, I’m really into concept albums. I like tunes just fine, but I think my background as a symphonic musician makes me gravitate toward full-length statements: symphonies, tone poems, concept albums, etc. In fact, even though we broke up the tunes on the record, when we perform this music live, it will be a continuous statement without breaks between the sections.
The title comes out of and lends itself to my interest in mystical and shamanic traditions. I feel as artists, we’re all shamans of sorts – creators of new experiences and artifacts that all contribute toward a larger understanding of the universe and a broadening of our collective imaginations. So, in thinking about the “omens” factor, I was imagining that the “omens” would be a sort of new zodiac – a collection of symbols that would create a cycle that illuminated something deeper about our consciousness. So, gravitating toward the number 12 was very natural: there are twelve tones in the traditional western chromatic scale, 12 traditional zodiacal signs, etc. In talking about this idea with Jake Vossler, who had a lot to do with shaping the whole concept of the record, we decided that the whole record should be governed by 12 chords, which are articulated in the Prologue and the Epilogue. In a sort of chance accident, I was messing around on his guitar (I don’t play guitar), and started coming up with 6-string cluster chords. I say “6-string” rather than “6-note” because some of the chords have repeated tones – they were more bizarre clustered voicings. We decided that in keeping with the mystical element, those chords could not be altered from their original voicings or else the “magic” would be lost.
So, then we had a sort of harmonic structure for the work. But still no individual titles. Somehow, the phrase “Blood Moon” came to mind while I was driving and that was the first title I kept. What was interesting was that title came into my head about a week before I heard about an impending lunar eclipse (Dec. 21, 2011) during which the moon would appear red. I took it as an “omen” that I was on the right path. Then the other titles started to come to mind (interestingly, all while driving), and as they did, the story began to reveal itself.
I say “reveal” because I didn’t have a story in mind initially. I wanted to access a real primordial part of the human consciousness – one that felt awe, terror, fascination beyond comprehension at the natural world – and I wanted to use sound to bring up these ancient, instinctual emotions. But once the titles began to emerge, and I started to define their individual symbology, the story started to take shape. It wasn’t until about 3 weeks before the session that I realized I had been formulating a sort of creation or rebirth myth about the cleansing and reforming of a corrupted universe.
So, musically, the challenge was to bring these ideas to life. Knowing that I had put together a band that was absolutely full of brilliant improvisers, and in keeping with the sense of magic in the concept, I wanted to leave most of the music up to them. But, in defining what roles each player would inhabit within each movement, it really gave narrative shape to the musical elements (i.e. groove vs. texture vs. soloing, etc.). For instance, in “Moth” Vinny on contralto clarinet is the voice of the Moth (who in certain traditional Native American shamanic culture is the messenger of the spirit world) giving his message, I’m the shaman receiving the message, Tim is the swirling smoke from the dying fire, Jake is the “desert vibe” with the clean tremolo-pedal guitar, and Matt is interplaying with Tim to create this other-worldy ritualistic trancey vibe.
Each piece had instructions like that and was governed by one of the 12 chords. I had also written free-time melodies for Vinny and I to play in unison to help with cohesiveness, and beyond that, I left it up to the players. I think you can agree that there’s magic in what they played!
In terms of my personal relationship to mysticism, I really believe that everything we do is magic in some form. So, there’s nothing particularly unique about this project, except that I’m being explicit about acknowledging a tradition that many people find difficult. What I mean by “difficult” is that acknowledging the magic in every moment means taking a lot of personal responsibility for one’s actions, since everything is an act of creation, and also using the term “magic” or “mystical” or “shamanic” implies a non-religious way of interacting with the natural world and with unexplainable phenomena. When we acknowledge that we do in fact interact with these forces all the time, most people put them under the “God” category as a way of explaining them. For me, I’d rather explore them personally, without any culturally imposed preconceptions or classifications, and simply make my own ideas about them.
For instance – I had an idea for a sound. I had an idea about the people who could make that sound. We made that sound together and told a story which, although related to other stories that do exist, did not exist before. That is an act, or several acts, of magic – if you choose to view it that way.