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Faun and A Pan Flute returns with ‘2014-2016’

The group’s second album looks outside, above and beyond the tropes of modern music

Saturday July 29, 2017 05:56 pm EDT

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2014-2016 by Faun and a Pan Flute

Much has changed for Faun and A Pan Flute since the arrival of the group’s 2014 self-titled LP. Marimba player Chris Childs has embraced the role of a proper musical composer and embarked on adventures leading his own trio. Saxophone player Peter Webb released an intensely personal album of solo acoustic songs, titled Liminal Space. Ben Shirley has been hard at work composing cello arrangements for small ensembles. And bass player Dan Bailey has immersed himself in a dynamic of improvised playing and post-production composition, all while manning the Broad Street Visitors Center recording facility. This all happened in the midst of long standing members guitarist Adam Babar and percussionist John Gregg parting ways with the group. Faun’s second album, simply titled 2014-2016, captures a snapshot of a peculiar energy amassing on the cusp of major transition.

The group was living at the moment just before a flashpoint, aesthetically, stylistically and personally, which translates to a greater sense of chemistry than anything the group has displayed on record before. The album arrives as a natural, logical conclusion to a chapter in Faun’s impressionistic jazz, rock and modern classical music hybrids. It also sets up a pivotal next up move to step off the diving board and plunge deeper and higher into the musical vocabulary the group has created. And it is a singular language that’s growing more complex.

The slow fade into the album’s opening number, “First Grade,” creates a mood hanging in a balance of serenity and tension. The musical prowess, emotional depth and the sheer velocity with which the music changes shows off a clarity of vision albeit abstract that comes from the kind of experience these players have collectively experienced. The narrative that comes through in the arrangements and ever-changing sentimental terrain of songs such as “The Nose” and “Turn Signal” makes anything the group has revealed in the past feel naive by comparison.

There’s an unplaceable sadness to both songs, hidden within the swift changes, repeating rhythms, accompanied by an undeniable sense of humor. But these songs no novelty. Defining that sense of humor is, perhaps, the most unsettling aspect of this six-song excursion. It’s best to just accept and trust that it won’t step outside of it’s corner of musical real estate as it props up provides counter-tension to the sweeping and fugue-like minimalism of “Dave II.?۝

Childs, Shirley and Bailey’s outside endeavors to sharpen their composer skills leave a clear mark throughout the album, as every instrument takes on a new and bold sense of purpose. Nothing is frivolously rendered here. But the focus on the personal strengthens the group’s hive mind as well. There’s an elevated level of collaborative intuition taking place, and that’s where Faun and A Pan Flute hits full stride.

Despite a penchant for experimentation, these songs are deeply melodic and beautiful. As easy as they are on the ears, however, “Brevity” and “Ball” demand a certain level of intellectual appreciation. The group is still pushing boundaries in Atlanta, and continues to release exciting, challenging, and vital music that exists outside, above and beyond the tropes of Atlanta music. ?