SUBTLE DEGREES is a new two-musician ensemble consisting of Travis Laplante (tenor saxophone) and Gerald Cleaver (drums). The duo's uncategorizable sound evokes everything from contemporary classical music, avant garde jazz, minimalism, technical metal, and sacred world music. Laplante is also the founder/composer of saxophone quartet Battle Trance and the ensemble Little Women.
A Dance That Empties is the culmination of a very long musical relationship. In 2001, when he was only 18 years old, Laplante played a concert at New York’s Knitting Factory, then a pre-eminent mecca for adventurous music of all kinds. Cleaver was in the audience, and came up to Laplante afterwards, handed him his phone number and said they should play together sometime. They soon did, “and I felt a very intimate and spiritual connection with Gerald that feels more alive than ever today,” Laplante says. “I’ve learned a tremendous amount from Gerald and have long considered him one of my favorite living improvisers.”
The two have performed together various times over the ensuing 17 years, but Laplante never felt he was quite ready to record with Cleaver. “It got to the point where I took a multiple-year break from playing with him because I felt like I didn’t have enough to bring to the table,” says Laplante. “I needed to practice so I could have more to give to our musical relationship.” Then, in the fall of 2016, Laplante received a commission to compose a piece to be performed at Roulette in Brooklyn the following spring. “I knew that this was the perfect opportunity to return to this relationship with Gerald.” And so Laplante began composing an epic-scale work with Cleaver’s rhythmic virtuosity in mind.
Inspired by the longer durational forms of spiritual ceremonies, A Dance That Empties is a continuous journey that unfolds over 43 minutes, with musical motifs that foreshadow, recur, and evolve. The piece refines sonic territory that Laplante has pioneered in his celebrated saxophone quartet Battle Trance, as well as his solo saxophone work, utilizing long passages of circular breathing and other extended techniques to create specific and yet ineffable emotional and sonic resonances. A Dance That Empties, as the title implies, adds the distinctly new element of complex rhythmic pulses precisely and expressively executed by Cleaver, that compel listeners to lose themselves in the hypnotically repetitive yet subtly shifting grooves.
With A Dance That Empties, Laplante and Cleaver throw themselves into unknown territory, delving further into the devotional intensity that has long distinguished both their work.
Travis Laplante on Subtle Degrees:
"Playing in this duo with Gerald is by far the most exposing musical experience I've ever had. I think it feels so raw and vulnerable because it has a similar nakedness to playing solo, while at the same time I'm completely relying on and needing to stay connected with Gerald, no matter what. It requires 100% trust in another person, as well as myself. Our respective parts in A Dance That Empties are so meticulously interwoven that it can potentially be disastrous if one of us makes even a tiny mistake. It feels like the riskiest piece I've ever written in terms of the psychological, emotional, physical and sensory demands."
Subtle Degrees live last night in Northampton, MA during one of the earlier moments of ‘A Dance That Empties.’ It’s a truly special experience to see this piece performed life, and to witness the dynamic cohesion between Travis Laplante and Gerald Cleaver. Their Northeast tour is underway now, with a performance tonight at @space538 in Portland, Maine. —— ‘A Dance That Empties’ is available NOW on Vinyl from NNA and CD/Digital from @newammusic. Order a Vinyl copy from our site (link in our profile), or pick up a copy directly from the artists at one of their shows. Excited for the album release concert this Sunday, March 4th at Union Pool in #Brooklyn. #nnatapes #newmusic #subtledegrees #travislaplante #geraldcleaver #livemusic #vinyl
Pop Matters: "With just drums and sax, Subtle Degrees crank up a whirling dervish of sound."
The Brooklyn Rail: "a shapeshifting miracle informed by contemporary classical, free-improvisation, and technical metal."
Portland Press Herald: "a work that sneaks up on you...fascinating layers of rhythmic counterpoint and commentary."
New York Magazine: "The duo of saxophonist Travis Laplante and drummer Gerald Cleaver pull from their new album-length composition A Dance That Empties. Like everything in their long collaboration, this project inhabits the border between avant-jazz and Minimalism."
New York City Jazz Record: "...this is one of the more thoughtful entries in the canon. The density is offset by pristine audio, rendering every detail perfectly."
The Free Press: "...these elements blend perfectly together and create something that is beautiful in an incredibly unique way. This album will take listeners on a journey."
Heavy Blog is Heavy: "A Dance That Empties is yet another phenomenal reminder of why fans of Laplante follow his music, and for newcomers, the album should provide ample evidence that it’s time to get caught up on a modern visionary’s discography."
The Commons: "Subtle Degrees’ uncategorizable sound evokes everything from contemporary classical music, avant garde jazz, minimalism, and technical metal, to sacred world music."