Dancing the fine line between several genres, multi-national trio Typical Sisters have just released their third full-length, Love Beam, via Joyful Noise Recordings. Consisting of guitarist Gregory Uhlmann, who resides in Los Angeles; bassist Clark Sommers, living in Chicago; and drummer Matt Carroll, who currently lives in Copenhagen, Typical Sisters constructs a wonderful album despite their geographic separation.

While a jazz sensibility permeates Love Beam, this isn’t really a pure jazz album — improvisation doesn’t take center stage here. The record starts with a bit of drum-driven ambiance, a sparse beat and bass line accompanied by clever sampled dialogue. The blueprint for most the record is truly established on the second song, “Well Done”. Once again, the drums and bass give the music its backbone before it’s joined by Uhlmann’s guitar, his tone walking a middle ground between Ali Farka Tourè and Bill Frisell. But his playing doesn’t really feel like a “solo,” just the appropriate accompaniment to the song. The guitar gives way to what is either a synth or a heavily effects-laden guitar line, either way the figure is elegant in its simplicity.

As the album progresses through its first few tracks, the drums begin to take center stage, not through any unnecessary pyrotechnics but rather through the incorporation of West African rhythmic sensibilities and beats. At times, Typical Sisters sound a bit like Tortoise and at other times like Medeski, Martin and Wood, but with a guitar replacing John Medeski’s keyboards. The rhythmic choices, though, give Love Beam its own flavor. It invites close listening while simultaneously creating a more relaxed background vibe.

Highlights abound, not the least of which is “Recurring Memory,” which possesses one of the least predictable structures of any track on the album. At times, it is reminiscent of Marc Ribot’s Los Cubanos Postizos project, but with more twists and turns. “Owl” is also of particular interest. Its more subdued approach and dissonant chords creates a strange atmosphere, thick with drama. Meanwhile “King Flipper” delves into a more forthright funk, once again bringing Medeski, Martin and Wood to mind. While a bit more obvious in its influences, the groove on this song is undeniable.

The songs on Love Beam are short, with only one breaking the four-minute mark, and even then just barely. When the songs’ abbreviated running times are combined with the occasional samples and use of digital production tools and techniques, the whole thing begins to feel like a beat tape. The track “No Evil” even hints at the late great MF DOOM and his work with Madlib.

While there is much to dig into here on a musical level, one can also simply nod along while one’s attention is focused on a more mundane task. Love Beam works on both levels. But this isn’t meant as a slight. The musicianship here is superb, even if understated, and the album is a pleasure to listen to repeatedly. The rhythms, the blending of songs and styles all set Love Beam in a category of its own and invite repeated if not obsessive listening.

Todd Manning

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