The Drift: Noumena
Temporary Residence

With half of the six pieces on its full-length debut Noumena stretching past the eleven-minute mark, The Drift, an instrumental four-piece from San Francisco, is clearly aptly-named. Comprised of drummer Rich Douthit, upright bass player Safa Shokrai, trumpeter Jeff Jacobs, and Tarentel's Danny Grody on electric guitar and keyboards, the group deftly ranges between fluid improvs, aggressive post-rock, and spacey, often dubbed-out atmospheres. Consequently, it's naturally tempting to draw comparisons to kindred ensembles, a celebrated Chicago outfit in particular, but the connections are actually rather superficial. Whereas Tortoise's compositions, for example, are succinct and tightly structured (some might argue too much so), The Drift's leisurely material feels more spacious by comparison. More specifically, the group strikes a careful balance between compositional structure and improvisation without ever leaning too far in either direction and, while the group's sound does possess a jazz-related dimension, it's more evident in The Drift's embrace of collective free-form flow rather than indulgent soloing.

The longer pieces in particular evolve episodically. A curdling opening section dominated by arco playing eases the listener—a little too slowly perhaps—into “Gardening, Not Architecture” until it bursts open with ringing guitars and trumpet smears, the quartet content to let the dirge drift thereafter towards a peaceful close. Shokrai's jazz ostinato initiates the spacey atmospherics of “Invisible Cities” (inspired by Italo Calvino's book) before Grody and Douthit push it into a muscular post-rock setting and then a hazier zone of raw guitars and bleating horns. Eventually, the pace slowly settles, the bass again an anchor for the others' musings, before a charging coda takes the piece out in a hallucinatory hailstorm. Encompassing all of the group's sounds in a single piece, “Transatlantic” includes haunted mood sculpting, a blurry free-form attack, and post-rock outro. While dreamy streams of trumpet blare and flutter brighten “Hearts Are Flowers,” the closing pieces exude a pensive, funereal ambiance.

A few additional notes of interest for trainspotters: though two pieces take their inspiration from Brian Eno's 'Oblique Strategies,' it's unclear in what exact way the series worked its way into the material's development but it's also an issue that's ultimately of little consequence; secondly, the Kantian term 'noumena' refers to an object as it is in itself (a 'thing-in-itself') independent of the mind (the degree to which something 'in itself' can be accessed or even discussed has long been a topic of philosophical debate); and, finally, the LP version includes two additional pieces (“Noumena,” “For Grace and Stars”), though the CD's 56-minute duration provides a more-than-adequate presentation of The Drift's music.

October 2005