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First Play: Joseph Shabason, Aytche

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Andrea Gin

Listening to the aqueous, languid sound of “Looking Forward to Something, Dude,” the opening song from Joseph Shabason’s new album Aytche, you might not think that what you’re hearing falls into the category of jazz, or involves a saxophone as its main instrument. And that’s exactly what he wants.

Shabason has played saxophone for bands like Diana, Destroyer and War on Drugs, but he is now ready to release his first solo album — and shake up any preconceived notions about how jazz and saxophone albums should sound. Aytche (pronounced like the letter “H”), sits at the little-visited nexus of minimalism, jazz and new age. It presents the saxophone as you’ve never heard it before.

On this album, the instrument is used to set a mood, using what Shabason refers to as “dense chordal textures.” He is deliberately trying to push his instrument to new frontiers.

“I also think that as soon as you are making music with your instrument in a 'way that it's known for,' you are most likely falling into patterns that are tried tested and true,” he explains, via email. “In a lot of cases you're just apeing music that's been done before you, [made] by people who were better players who at the time were actually pushing the limits of the instrument. The last thing I want to be is a dude who is trying (and failing) to sound like one of my idols so I may as well try and sound like myself.”

Another surprising aspect of Aytche is that, even though it’s largely instrumental, the songs on this album deal with serious topics like degenerative illness and assisted suicide. Any words your hear come courtesy of clips from archival audio. Shabason says that writing music that tries to make a statement without using words is all about subtlety and feel.

“The challenge for me was to take what I had been listening to (hours and hours of BBC archival footage of holocaust survivors recount their stories) and try and convey the way it made me feel in a way that is meaningful while avoiding it being too overt and corny,” he writes. “In the end I think that I settled on just using brief snippets of the recordings that allude to suicide and loss without actually saying it outright. That way people can interpret it however they want.”

The experience of listening to this album is contemplative, emotional and fascinating. It’s also unlike anything else you’re going to hear this year.

Aytche will be released on Aug. 25 via Western Vinyl. Pre-order it here.