Jefre Cantu-Ledesma Tracing Back The Radiance

[Mexican Summer; 2019]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: ambient, drone, guided meditation
Others: The Necks, The Dead Texan, Daniel Lanois, Loscil, Kara-Lis Coverdale, CV & JAB, Cliff Martinez

We’re all gonna proceed with caution now, no? Can’t help but? What’s it serve to postpone understanding for destabilization’s own sorry, albeit essential, sake anyway? When we get to the end, and it’s shit, we’re swallowed up by regret. But this last stop, sentimental bemoaning of all our rashness and hedging on sustaining short term gains ought to’ve fallen off with generations of beings before us. Are we programmed just to succeed, to thrive and to flail faster and faster as gravity catches up? Or are we meant to take heed? To build off past mistakes, mindful of our forebears who in their last extremities likely scrambled together some moonshot prayer that the next crop of humans could reverse this all-crushing trend of reflexive, over-eager negation and evolve? “Listen to your body,” we’ve heard it said. Easy to see, by extension that there’s no use hating because it’s too easy or obvious to love, or loving because you’re sick of hating everything. Might happen; we could learn to proceed with deliberate, open caution. Listen intently, that the world may open up to us in sensational ways. As luck would have it, a new release from patient observer/ecstatic serenity mage Jefre Cantu-Ledesma is upon us. Arriving at this crucial oasis, we’d be foolish not to take some of our evaporating time with it.

Tracing Back The Radiance’s 45 minutes tap into one’s neglected stillness while imperceptibly piloting the listener through its radiant, murky tributary run. Cantu-Ledesma’s ensemble (that’s 11 in total, including greats like Mary Lattimore, JAB, and Roger Tellier Craig) achieve an elegant cascade here that’s more stoicism than stupor and more calm than stagnancy. The five-and-a-half-minute centerpiece (“Joy”) is a thing of staggering beauty, dissolving your worry with just Cantu-Ledesma’s vibraphone and Jonathan Sielaff’s sweetly aching bass clarinet sustains, before the rest of the ensemble floats up into the mix, spiriting the two off in soft clamor. It’s less like an interlude than a sustained glimpse of some final state of enlightened grace heading steadily up and away from you. The lion’s share of this chapter in JC-L’s oeuvre, while calmer and more intoned, still belies a sensation akin to never arriving or becoming especially settled. But its minimalism paces out one’s lingering uncertainty to the most manageable rate, so they might find a discernible way to come back together in some essential sliver of meantime. Ben Chasny keened on it; this work kinda spools it out for you.

Although it’s an undeniably gorgeous feat, it’s perhaps worth noting that this warm cloud city of bracing tenderness is in loads of good company. But it would seem there is an unflaggingly strong need for expert salves on all levels in society, and it’d be unwise to pretend we can afford to restrict the practice. And whatever this album recalls, its refined quality places it more at torch-bearer status than something over-familiar. It transcends what on a whiff might seem a blatant New Age prettiness with a slyly exponential depth of arrangement. For going on 13 years now, be it spacerock noise slabbage or smeary dream pop, Cantu-Ledesma’s albums have always been properly ecstatic immersions. And he continues to get a lot from his well-curated collaborations (see last year’s perfect savory/spiky collaboration with Felicia Atkinson). The largely acoustic approach on Tracing more emphasizes the artist’s panache for conveying restless composure than serves as a departure. It might aid sleep, but it also might give aid to some shady snake blossom dreaming. Serene as it is, the passage is often haunted, with a gently tugging undercurrent of instability. It’s a steady and cool yet musty morning breeze, not pure succor in what it’s carrying to you. But this peripheral disquiet is eminently abidable, with ample room to stop and to breathe and to listen and, yes, to forgive yourself for having the need to do so.

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