Kate Rogers, Staff Writer
Subtle Degrees, an ensemble consisting of drummer Gerald Cleaver and Travis Laplante on tenor saxophone, is certainly uncategorizable. Their album, A Dance That Empties, was released on Feb. 23. There are only three tracks, each with its own unique mood. Roughly 40 minutes in length, the album evokes a strong jazz feeling with some very classical and postmodern twists. Instead of contrasting, these elements blend perfectly together and create something that is beautiful in an incredibly unique way. This album will take listeners on a journey.
“This music isn’t about thinking at all,” Laplante said when asked about the message of the album. “It’s about a deeper connection from heart to heart.” Artists will often come out and explain what music means, and without criticizing that method at all Laplante said he doesn’t want to do that.
“I feel very passionately about the mystery of music,” he said. “There is something extremely intimate and personal about it.” Laplante went on to explain that every person who hears the pieces will have a different experience, and he really wants to encourage that. “It’s like a reflection pool,” he said about the album.
Laplante is part of other bands: one called Pretty Women, and a saxophone quartet called Battle Trance. As a kid in VT, his relationship with music began in the fourth grade. Originally he said that he wanted to play the drums, but he asked his mom for her opinion first. Despite not being a very musical person, she said that she had always loved the sound of the saxophone. So that is what he chose.
“It felt insignificant at the time, there was no pressure,” Laplante said. Although he quickly became, as he said, “really attracted to it in a way that there was something beyond the notes. I could connect with people and the universe in a way I never had.”
Laplante went on to get more interested in jazz, swing bands, and music from the underground New York scene. Eventually he went to The New School in Manhattan to study jazz. This is where he first got into a practice room with Cleaver. The two had met beforehand at Laplante’s first concert at The Knitting Factory in 2001, when Laplante was 18 years old. Introduced by mutual friends, they hit it off and exchanged phone numbers. When they finally got to play together though, Laplante said that he felt as soon as they stopped that there was a very special musical connection.
“It felt incredibly magical, and as if the room were a thousand miles long,” said Laplante. “There was a sense of vastness.”
Cleaver is, according to their label’s bio, “One of the New York jazz scene’s leading drummer and composers.” Laplante spoke incredibly highly of him, saying that he regards Cleaver as one of his “favorite living improvisors.” The two of them have “a very special musical connection,” said Laplante.
After the first time they played, they didn’t make anything together immediately because Laplante felt as though he needed to take a break. When Laplante first started writing what would later become A Dance That Empties, he saw it as a great opportunity and wrote it with Cleaver’s ability and style in mind. The piece began as a commission to be played at Roulette in Brooklyn. However Laplante decided that he “wanted it to live on past one performance.” Thus the project was born.
Subtle Degrees will be debuting their album in a performance at The Space Gallery at 538 Congress St. on March 1. The doors open at 7:30 p.m., and tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door.
“I am hoping for the unknown,” Laplante said about this debut. “That a group of people can come together and experience love through music.” More information on the show can be found at Space538.org.