Brandon Terzic is one of my oldest and best friends, a fellow veteran of the Akron Public School system with all the scars and residual trauma to prove it. Like the great bluesmen of yore, he's managed to summon his anguish and frustration and turn it into a musical phenomenon for the ages. How does that happen to a skinny white kid from Akron? I'll remind you that Firestone High School, not unlike the Mississippi Delta, is one of the legendary breeding grounds of great musicians. The release of Xalam Project indicates that there must be more to that West Akron water than fluoridation and heavy metals. Yes, Akron has served as a launching pad for a number of first-rate acts, but Brandon's journey to this point is unique, one steeped in many lands and cultures and all the winding roads he's traveled down.
Our friendship has always been centered in part around music. He introduced me to Jimi Hendrix, not just user-friendly hits like Purple Haze, but the dark, brooding blues, funk and soul found in Band of Gypsys. Hoping to repay that immense debt, I mixed for him tapes of choice Dylan songs. While other guys were trying their damnedest to hang out with girls, we exiled ourselves to my parent's house with a CD player, a jug of Minute Maid fruit punch and our latest score from the local record store. There were some miscues along the way, but John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Robert Johnson, Mozart and Beethoven proved milestone discoveries and lasting companions.
While laying that foundation of influence, Brandon was becoming more proficient on his Stratocaster. Often of a Friday night, he and his band could be heard electrifying the dingy haunts of Highland Square, turning half-dead saloons into, at least for a few hours, hallowed blues houses. Though it would seem an easy jump from basement bar to major record deal, somewhere along the line our prodigy gave it up, relocated to New York and rode the tech surge to a full-time job. That move may seem an aberration considering that most musicians move to New York to pursue, not abandon, their artistic endeavors, not until Brandon quit the job and made a few transitional transatlantic journeys--Israel, Cyprus, Morocco, Senegal, Egypt--was his calling renewed. Only now he was experimenting with the sounds and instruments of the regions. Gone was the Strat, replaced by distant stringed cousins the oud, the ngani, the saz.
His return to New York saw him having to grind out a living as a subway performer. Though dwindling coffers and an inability to find steady work and may seem like a bottoming out, I would argue that the fetid platforms of the Manhattan mass transit system were as formative a training ground as the streets of Egypt. He could easily have packed up and headed back family and friends in Akron. He did not. And here we are.
I'm not sure how one goes about writing a proper music review (I continue to rebuff job offers from Rolling Stone), and so here is a simple, unequivocal, stone-cold endorsement of a powerful debut. Xalam Project is a tour de force that I have spun dozens of times and gotten just a cursory peek into the wealth of surprises housed within a ten-track production. Emotional to its core and yet intellectual enough to satisfy the snootiest jazz enthusiast, the band packs in something for everyone into these generous instrumentals. Xalam Project is neither predictable nor inaccessible. Fans of jazz, blues, funk, rock and world music will feel right at home because Brandon has not confined himself to one style. He avoids the trappings of esoterica by surrounding himself with a top flight band of diversely talented musicians:
Matt Kilmer - percussion
Matt Darriau - sax
John Shannon - guitar
Peter Slavov - bass
None of them hails from Akron, but all of these boys can play, and thus there is not a single dud to be found on the album. Am I biased? Certainly, but I wouldn't be writing this post if I didn't mean every word. I implore you to buy a copy from Amazon or download it on itunes. Put on a pair of headphones and immerse yourself in a world that is both here and there, grounded and transient, East and West, earthbound and intergalactic. You know this album, and yet it is entirely new. Jimi, Coltrane, Miles, Eddie Hazel, Led Zeppelin, Toumani Diabate, Peter Gabriel, the Delta, Cuba, Senegal, Islam...I hear all of these sounds and places and influences and more, not rehashed but amplified through the creative channels of five superb musicians.
Buy Xalam Project and see why I give my buddy's album 5.0 McBones.