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Guitarist Mike Sopko, Drummer Simon Lott are
The Golden Measure
Improvising Duo Offers Music Rich in Sonic Intrigue, Unique Compositional Logic and Deep, Highly Attuned Interplay
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
A study in musical symbiosis, The Golden Measure marks the duo recording debut of guitaristMike Sopko and drummer Simon Lott (Charlie Hunter Trio, Todd Sickafoose’s Blood Orange, more). The 21 seamlessly segueing tracks are by turns spacious and haunting, funky, harmonically ambiguous, melodically direct and sonically varied. “It’s really two tracks,” Sopko remarks, “one that’s about 40 minutes and another one that’s about 13-14 minutes. They flow into each other almost like a sequence of the day, or when you’re dreaming. It’s like going to bed at night and you go through waves of consciousness, subconsciousness, then deep dream. It flows. At one point you could be having some mellow experience and then all of a sudden it can get intense. Or you could condense a month of your life, let’s say, and go through something like that. I’ve never really made a recording like this, and it crafted itself.”
 
Sopko, a longtime fixture in the Bay Area who recently returned to his native Cleveland, has done duo work with drummers before, notably with Thomas Pridgen in the ironically named duo Big Band. His work with Pridgen took another turn when the legendary Bill Laswell came on board as bassist on the recent release Sopko-Laswell-Pridgen. But The Golden Measure is its own animal — an improvised summit with Lott (based in New Orleans) that came about via a yet-to-be-released quartet session on the West Coast.
 
 
 
 
As the quartet played, the hookup between Sopko and Lott proved so enticing that the two made time to record alone a few days later. “We recorded about 3-4 hours of improvised material,” the guitarist recalls. “Some was little hooks I had put together ahead of time. But Simon had never heard them, and when we did the session I didn’t really intend to play those things, they just kind of happened. We improvised different sections and I went back and took my favorite sections of the improv. The idea was not to change anything, other than maybe the order that those things were initially played in.”
 
There’s a distinct regional simpatico between Sopko and Lott that accounts for the compelling musical result on The Golden Measure. “Simon is from Baton Rouge and I’m from Cleveland,” Sopko says. “I feel like there’s a connection between Cleveland and Louisiana and that whole corridor: from Cleveland to Columbus to Cincinnati, to Louisville, Nashville, Birmingham and then New Orleans, it’s a route that’s heavily run for commerce, for musicians and so on. I’m up at the Great Lakes and Simon is down at the Gulf of Mexico, and if you combine all that together it’s a spectacular thing. Playing with Simon is amazing — he’s such an incredible musician and person, and the guy’s energy is unparalleled. His tone and his pocket and timing are just incredible.”
The atmospheric, ethereal element at the heart of The Golden Measure, brought about by Sopko’s dissonant legato chording and Lott’s multi-textured percussive soundscapes, is balanced by the sheer backbeat funkiness of Lott’s drum kit on “My Liege,” “Ebber” and “Cloy,” or the roaring punk energy of tracks such as “Carol” and “Wake Up, Son.” At times, as on “Outgrabe,” the spirit overtook Lott and there was nothing to do but scream. The yelling crops up on “Visions Distorted” as well, and there Sopko overdubbed and stacked additional yelling “because I wanted it to go on longer,” he reveals. “Visions Distorted” also has an enigmatic spoken-word element: “That’s like a poem, something Simon improvised on the spot.”
 
 
 
 
While The Golden Measure is “a live recording with no cleanups on any parts,” Sopko notes, the sonic possibilities were heightened in the mix by Mark Allen-Piccolo (Tune-Yards, Ben Goldberg). “Mark took some liberties sweetening up the sound and making it spacious, which I really love. But a lot of it is just the natural feel.” When Lott plays mallets pianissimo yet very rapidly on the floor tom, for instance, creating an almost imperceptible rumble as the rubato guitar chords mutate on “Visions Distorted,” it highlights his uncommonly subtle stick technique and way of manipulating live sound. But a washy delay effect in the mix turns it into something even more mysterious and captivating. The filtered reverby sound and sheer hugeness of the bass drum groove on “Cloy” is another sly and creatively mixed moment.
Soon after The Golden Measure was mixed and mastered, Lott invited Sopko to New Orleans to play duo in the Open Ears Music Series. The two not only performed; they also got together and documented new music over the course of five days — “enough material for probably two more albums, plus we recorded our live show,” Sopko recalls. Musically, the New Orleans encounters were completely different, he adds. “Simon is actually playing his keyboards, he has effects, he has all sorts of pedals, and it almost sounds like four people are playing. He has triggers for his drums, so he can create a universe of sound.”
 
The Golden Triangle, then, reveals the beginnings of an already evolving duo concept. This is a unit with its own sound and a clear sense of its musical priorities, qualities that ought to steer it toward a vibrant and varied future.
 
 
 
 
Mike Sopko has led the Glimpse Trio with bassist Chris Lopes and drummer Hamir Atwal since 2010. His 2014 release Cascading Liquid Rainbows featured the keyboard brilliance of his close friend Martin Dosh, the noted multi-instrumentalist. Sopko has also recently collaborated with saxophonist and fellow Cleveland native Joshua Smith (Birth) and Minneapolis firebrand Michael Lewis (Happy Apple, Dosh, Andrew Bird, Arcade Fire, Bon Iver).
 
Simon Lott has played professionally from age 15 and has worked with the likes of Charlie Hunter, Skerik, Todd Sickafoose, Robert Walter and more. In 2000 he released In the Parking Lott of Swing and he continues to document his own music. Following Hurricane Katrina he relocated to New York for three years before returning to his native New Orleans. He currently works in both cities and has started a DIY home studio called THE EARSE.

RELEASE DATE || March 25, 2016
 
 


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