Compact Disc (CD)
Two decades since they altered downtown New York City’s experimental music landscape with spiritual shredder I Am A Man, cooperative power trio Harriet Tubman—guitarist Brandon Ross, bassist Melvin Gibbs, and drummer J.T. Lewis—remain as potently freethinking as ever. That aesthetic is manifested not only in their band name (their namesake is the 19th-century abolitionist and political activist who helped free hundreds of slaves), but in their freeform, shape-shifting pyrotechnics that ecstatically hurtle from spazzed-out salvos to meditative beauty. Tubman’s hard-grooving sound-world spans free jazz, metal, rock, blues, funk, and dub—and it’s no wonder: veterans Ross, Gibbs, and Lewis’s far-reaching credits include collaborative and supporting stints with Cassandra Wilson, Rollins Band, Henry Threadgill, Sonny Sharrock, and Vanessa Williams, to name a few.
Hot on the heels of 2017’s Araminta, a spaced-out, psych-jazz maelstrom on which visionary composer and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith joined the fray, Tubman—with unofficial fourth member Scotty Hard back in the producer’s chair—hit on all ear-searing cylinders on its fifth—and arguably best—full-length. The album’s title, The Terror End of Beauty, was borrowed from legendary “out”-jazz guitarist Sharrock’s quest “to find a way for the terror and the beauty to live in one song.” Throughout the album, Tubman do just that, melding the brutal with the beautiful.
Rumbling with sheets of deafeningly loud feedback and bathed in electronic shimmers and streaks—due in part to the wizardly recording and mixing talents of Hard—the 10 songs that make up The Terror End of Beauty melt into one another with breakneck momentum. The album creates the illusion of a single forward motion—a continuous piece rich with textural detail. Like Araminta (also co-produced by Hard), the hypnotic, effects-laden atmospherics provide the perfect tapestry for Ross’s screaming, Hendrix-ian guitar heroics, the thick, monolithic throb of Gibbs’s low-end grooves, and Lewis’s heavy-hitting, polyrhythmic pulsations. Terror’s dialed-in, mind-numbing attack includes cosmic trips into dub otherworlds (“3000 Worlds,” “Farthur Unknown”), string-bending blues anthems (“The Green Book Blues”), doom-metal squalls (“Prototaxite”), a dizzying and angular drum solo clinic (“Drumtion”), and a slow-burning, arena-ready take on Bob Marley’s classic “Redemption Song.” With The Terror End of Beauty, Harriet Tubman have not only realized Sonny Sharrock’s vision, they’ve made one of 2018’s best records in the process.