BURNT BELIEF
Mutual Isolation
(Alchemy Records)

 

After releasing a series of ambient, electronic based albums, including his all-time solo masterpiece from 2019 called Alternate Landscapes, as well as a brilliant album called Across The Evening, created in 2020 with Estonian guitarist Robert Jürjendal, Oregon-based guitar conceptualist Jon Durant returns in 2021 with a splendid new CD from his group Burnt Belief - their fourth entitled Mutual Isolation. Isolation might not be the best term to describe this album, as start to finish Mutual Isolation is brimming with a new found sense of musical collaboration on what is Jon’s first new album with Burnt Belief in several years.

Of course, there was the Edwin Durant Kovtun that Jon made in 2019 with Ukrainian singer Anna Kovtun and bass ace Colin Edwin, the other main half of Burnt Belief. Harking back to earlier Burnt Belief albums, Mutual Isolation, featuring Jon once again teamed with Colin Edwin, is very much a group effort with both artists joined this time by Vinny Sabatino (drums), Aleksei Saks (trumpet) and Andi Pupato (percussion). Invoking the consequences of the title of the album, the 9-track, 54-minute Mutual Isolation was recorded during the pandemic by these artists using what is called a “distance working method”.

Taking a somewhat different approach from previous Burnt Belief albums, on Mutual Isolation Colin Edwin plays double bass giving the album a more grounded feel while imparting a more natural resonance to the sound. Colin also adds in rhythm programming and audio processing that gives the album a further spatial quality. Compared to Jon’s ambient music masterpiece, Alternate Landscapes, this 2021 Burnt Belief comes across as a contemporary jazz-rock fusion masterwork spotlighting Jon’s memorable and often quite melodic lead guitar lines.

With Colin Edwin’s double bass serving as an anchor and Jon Durant’s electric lead guitar and 'cloud-guitar' soaring freely, drummer Vinny Sabatino’s skillful drumming gives the entire album a proficient jazz-rock edge, while trumpet master Aleksei Saks and percussionist Andi Pupato bring in yet another unique shading to the music that breathes fresh life into the mix. It’s been said that with its enveloping elements of improvisation based around strong thematic compositions, ambient textural atmospherics, subtle electronics and elements of progressive jazz/rock, the music of Burnt Belief is sometimes hard to classify. That may be true, yet with the 2021 release of Mutual Isolation, Burnt Belief spans the distance to reach further innovative and mind-bending heights.

Burnt Belief on Bandcamp / Jon Durant on Bandcamp / Burning Shed

 

 


 

mwe3.com presents a new interview with
JON DURANT

mwe3: I guess things are gaining momentum in your music world again with a new Burnt Belief album from you and Colin Edwin. Is Mutual Isolation a kind of liberating musical statement from you after 18 months of the pandemic? Hit back better. In fact the title Mutual Isolation sounds like a lockdown term. I think I learned a whole new dictionary of terms this past 18 months or so.

Jon Durant: It was a very liberating feeling to make this album. I’d been involved in several very introspective records in the last few years and between this and my work on Stephan Thelen’s Fractal Guitar 2, it was nice to hit things a little harder again. The title is definitely a play on the fact that we were all isolated, so it’s kind of a pandemic oxymoron.

mwe3: The album blends prog and jazz-rock and some of the vibe harks back in spirit to Alternate Landscapes, especially on the album closing long piece “Expanse”. Can you compare Mutual Isolation with earlier Burnt Belief albums? Your new sounds seems more electrifying and lucid than even before.

Jon Durant: There’s a definite jazz-rock vibe to much of the album, but as always with Burnt Belief, there’s a whole range of other elements as well including a more ambient track like “Expanse”. Mutual Isolation is similar to the previous records in the way we blend elements, but it definitely has a sound and character all its own. The third album, Emergent has a couple longer, epic compositions like the title track and “Turning Torso”, but this time we generally kept the pieces more concise. And we did a kind of free jazz piece as a tribute to Terje Rypdal—the album’s opener “Where It All Began (for TR)”.

One key difference between this album and the previous Burnt Belief records is that Colin is playing upright bass exclusively. It has completely changed the way everything sounds, and I think it’s a really positive change. My own sound continually evolves, I hope, as I grow and change and explore more. But there is a spirit in my playing on this album that I think is quite fresh and exciting.

mwe3: You’ve been extremely prolific these past couple years with the Edwin Kovtun Durant album and the album you made Robert Jürjendal called Across The Evening, then a pair of digital only albums with Peter Chilvers. Tell us about the Peter Chilvers albums and why you didn’t press CD on them? I did listen to them and they’re also excellent.

Jon Durant: It has been an amazingly productive couple years for me, both with my own recordings, and with a host of records with others. The recordings with Peter Chilvers are very personal and introspective, and I’m incredibly pleased with how they came out. He’s a wonderful musician, who works with Brian Eno, and an equally delightful human being. We met in Cambridge, England, when I was there to work on an album with the ambient group Darkroom. That album in due in December 2021.

We’d known each other online for some time but this was our first in person meeting, and it was one of those “I really want to work with this person” kind of feelings right from the start. As for CDs, the reality is that between the cost of manufacturing and, more significantly shipping overseas, it just isn’t practical to make them anymore. I did make them for my albums with Robert Jürjendal, Stephan Thelen and the new Burnt Belief, but it is such a huge expense that it really is more about our feeling that it’s important to do so. Peter wasn’t as enthusiastic about having them, so we didn’t go down that path.

mwe3: Tell us how you assembled the players on Mutual Isolation. You go way back with Vinny Sabatino. Tell us how and when you met him and first recorded with Vinny.

Jon Durant: Yeah, Vinny and I have been best friends since a mutual friend introduced us back in the late 1980s/early 90s. When I began the label, Alchemy Records, in 1996 and decided to do my first proper album, Silent Extinction Beyond the Zero, I immediately asked him to play on it. He’s an amazing drummer, and it’s always such a pleasure to work with him. His ability to create amazing grooves and elevate our material is just fantastic.

mwe3: And Aleksei Saks and Andi Pupito you worked with on the Edwin Kovtun Durant album right? Is this the first time you’ve used drummer and percussionist on the same album? Does that influence your writing say on a track like “Rosso Portofino”? It has a kind of sonic heartbeat, more rhythm and drumming the better right?

Jon Durant: The trumpeter, Aleksei Saks, is from Estonia and I worked with him along with his frequent musical partner Robert Jürjendal for a live show in Tallinn and then the album Across the Evening. (Their new UMA album is amazing, btw.) I’ve loved his playing since I first heard him with Slow Electric, and we’d originally asked him to play on the second Burnt Belief album, Etymology, but he was unable to make that happen at the time. We’re so pleased to have him on Mutual Isolation, as it ads such a dramatic lift to the pieces on which he joins us.

Andi Pupato has been my favorite percussionist since I started listening to Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin, and his playing leapt off of those records. We first worked together on Across the Evening, then again on Stephan Thelen’s Fractal Guitar 2. We really enjoy each other’s playing so he was happy to join us here. And again, what he brought to the pieces is just so inspiring. Having Vinny and Andi together was definitely a treat as it created a wonderful rhythmic space. And they both leave space so that it doesn’t get too dense as well, which is really important with music like this.

mwe3: Give us a good example of a track with Colin Edwin’s rhythm programming. The tracks have a good pulse to them. I was thinking of the album track “Precipitation”. It’s almost like the rhythm precipitates the melody. It’s a truly haunting sound. Vinny’s drumming is brilliant on that track.

Jon Durant: The first track that comes to mind for me is “Perilous Terrain”, where it starts with his dark groove, and we build from there. “Resistential” is another one where his programming is quite prominent. There are really fascinating electronic rhythm elements throughout and the album, but because we add real drums and percussion over the top it’s sometimes hard for people to hear what’s programmed and what’s real. His programming influences what Vinny does for sure. “Precipatation” is super cool in that it’s all about Colin’s bass line, and this off-kilter 5/4 rhythm, and Vinny and I have this push-pull thing going on. Then Andi adds his percussive textures and brings it all together. Funnily, that’s a piece that started with his programmed drums, but in the end the real drums and percussion tell the story without the programming.

mwe3: Tell us a few things about the process of recording the tracks and mixing the final takes and about recording, mixing and mastering for Mutual Isolation.

Jon Durant: One interesting part of this album is actually the story of how it was made. When Colin and I began writing the album, we had the idea that we would do our usual process of writing—sending files back and forth until we had the form and structure of the compositions—then we wanted to finish it by recording the final bass, guitar and drum parts live in a studio. Together. We had planned to go back to Grand Cru Studio in London where we mixed the Edwin Durant Kovtun record. But unfortunately, the pandemic had other plans for us. In the end, everyone recorded their parts independently and I put them all together.

For Vinny’s drums, the engineer, Jeff Kesler went to Vinny’s house while Vinny was out to set up the mics, then returned to his house and recorded him remotely! This is how we had to work during this period of Mutual Isolation… The other thing that happened, and I think it’s one of the secrets to how much this album manages to feel like we did do it together, is that most of my solos were my “guide tracks.” While putting the basic tracks together, I would lay down a solo with the idea that when we were together in the studio, I’d cut the real one. In the end, I kept those original guide tracks because Vinny had played to them and I felt like there was such a vibe that playing something else would’ve been less effective.

I did all the mixing myself. And for mastering I have an excellent mastering engineer here in Portland, Dana White at Specialized Mastering. He’s done my last several records, and has a great feel for how to make my records really sound as good as they can.

mwe3: Some of the tracks on Mutual Isolation are very fusion oriented. Tell us about “Month Of Moonlight”. That’s one of your finest melodic fusion tracks.

Jon Durant: Thanks, it’s got quite a compelling melody, and a fantastic bass line from Colin. And Vinny just rocked the hell out of it. Like many of the pieces, it began with Colin’s bass line and I took it from there. I started with the chords—on electric 12 string—doubled them with Rhodes, and then began to explore with the fretless guitar. The melody just seemed to sing itself into life. This is one of the pieces where the whole fretless track was one live take that I kept. Warts and all.

mwe3: “Rosso Portofino” sounds like a rare Italian wine. Very lush sounding and neo-romantic plus, Aleksei’s trumpet is superbly recorded in the mix.

Jon Durant: As it happens, “Rosso Portofino” is named for the new red color that Ferrari developed for their new Portofino M model. It is just staggeringly beautiful! The track began with Colin slicing a cloud guitar soundscape to create the opening rhythmic element. The melodic sounds include an electric guitar doubled with a Ukrainian Bandura, which is a sample played on midi guitar. Aleksei’s trumpet sings over the top in a very majestic way, it’s an absolute highlight for me.

mwe3: “Perilous Terrain” is pure genius. It will appeal to both fusion and prog listeners. You really have your fingers on the pulse of this track.

Jon Durant: Colin’s programming just left open a wonderous set of possibilities for me. It’s dark and slightly nasty, and definitely a fun romp on the fretless guitar. Plus the Rhodes and Prophet were the perfect sounds for me to play over.

mwe3: Every track here is insanely good. “The Evolution Of Disintegration” is a humorous title for another brilliant jazz-fusion instrumental. That’s another one that has a great sound. Plus, it’s the trio again with you, Colin and Vinny. Is Vinny playing live with you or is everyone remote?

Jon Durant: Colin came up with that title, and it’s another piece with him using a slicer on my clouds. This time, he distressed the sound a bit which is what’s disintegrating. He had a very interesting bass line, and I ended up writing this one on piano, and adding the guitar on top of it. There’s a really nice feel on the guitar, definitely a bit of a big fusion guitar melody, but that’s not a bad thing, is it? I also added a little melodic element on the prophet that adds some nice color to the piece.

It’s amazing how Vinny managed to make it feel like we’re live, despite the circumstances under which we recorded it.

mwe3: Tell us about the gear you used on Mutual Isolation. Your guitar sounds are very pure and sonorous. What are your main guitars on this album and did you treat the guitars on the album with any devices or other studio wizardry? How about amps or other techie information on the album?

Jon Durant: The fretless guitar and electric 12 string are made by Koll Guitars. I absolutely love his guitars, the fretless in particular. The other electric is a PRS custom 24 that I had Saul Koll modify with a Mann-Made bridge and Lollar Imperial pickups. As for amps, much of the album was done using a Strymon Iridium instead of an amp, and a Mesa gain pedal. I also used the Koll High Rise on a couple bits. My primary delay is a Pigtronix Echolution 2, and I also used an Eventide H9. Several pieces, in particular Divine Trickster and Resistential, have a super cool effect on them which is the Hologram Macrocosm.

mwe3: “Perilous Terrain” has some contrasting tempos, kind of carried forward by the bass and some strange programming. Tell us about the Rhodes and the various guitars on that track. The Rhodes is an interesting added effect. Have you featured it on disc a lot before?

Jon Durant: On each of the Burnt Belief albums I used an occasional piano or Rhodes but I used them a lot more on this album. I’ve been playing a lot more keys in the last couple years—just before Covid hit, I’d bought a Prophet Rev 2, and of course I did a whole album based around digital piano run through my guitar rig—Soul Of A River. On “Perilous Terrain” there’s only one guitar track, and it’s all just one live take that I had planned to re-do, but left it as is. When I got Colin’s bass and rhythm track, I immediately heard the Rhodes, it just seemed to be exactly what was needed and I built the piece from there.

mwe3: The album does come down to Earth on the two closing tracks. Tell us about “Divine Rascal” and “Expanse”, the latter which features only you and Colin.

Jon Durant: “Divine Rascal” was built from an African rhythm over which Colin had created a super cool bass line. Andi added such a wonderful vibe with his percussion, and Vinny was just so deep in the pocket for it, and left enough space for Andi to do his thing. The primary melodic element is again the fretless guitar, with a bit of a Jon Hassell vibe to it.

“Expanse” was actually the first piece we did. I had started it shortly after finishing Soul Of A River and felt that it needed to expand on what I’d done on that record so I began to flush it out with some other elements besides the piano and cloud guitar. Once I had it developed I sent it to Colin to get his feedback on it, and he asked if I wanted him to play on it. He had the idea to play upright on it, as one of the things that the pandemic had killed was his regular jazz gig where he played upright so he had been working hard to keep up his chops. When I heard what he did, I immediately said “maybe it’s time for a new Burnt Belief?” He agreed and we set off on the path. The actual compositional process was very fast, we wrote most of it over the course of about a month. But then the process of getting all the other parts took some time. In the end, I think it’s the best record I’ve ever made.

mwe3: I know you always have new projects in progress and ideas for Global guitar craft. Care to unveil any upcoming recordings coming in 2022? On to even further greatness maestro…

Jon Durant: There’s more coming with Stephan Thelen, details will be coming soon for sure. Also, my amazing Ukrainian singer Inna Kovtun was just here for a couple weeks. We have some interesting new material in progress. In many ways, I am feeling the need for a break as it’s been such an intense few years for me. But I’m sure there will be plenty more to come!

 

 





 

 
   
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