By Dave Cantor
Electronic experiments in the States and Jamaica’s vocal tradition may be one of the few remaining untapped combinations in the music world. Luckily, Cameron Stallones, who performs and records as Sun Araw, was already privy to the work of a North Carolinian who wouldn’t distinguish between acoustic folk traditions and 1950s minimal compositions. Unwittingly influenced by Henry Flynt’s recombination, Stallones generates at the crossroad of disparate sounds.
“Some of that stuff is the most relentlessly psychedelic music—like the violin strobe stuff,” Stallones says of Henry Flynt’s fiddle improvisations, which are set atop looped drones for 1981’s “You Are My Everlovin’.”
His fascination with musical expression includes a healthy understanding of minimalism and an appreciation of the relatively obscure Flynt, who flouted his position in the art world, perhaps doing his recordings a disservice in the process. But forty minutes of droning violin improvisation drawn from Flynt’s Southern upbringing connect his work to Stallones’ experiments in Jamaica. Grafting a unique culture—whether it’s Rasta ideology or Appalachian entertainment—onto an art music spans genre and land mass, resulting in the disintegration of boundaries and the emergence of something ultimately unique.
“To me, I’m interested in finding connections between different traditions,” Stallones says, “just looking for the biggest possible picture.”
Lining up the Congos—Roy Johnson, Cedric Myton, Watty Burnett and Kenroy Fyffe—as collaborators for “Icon Give Thank,” which also included Los Angeles-based multi-instrumentalist M. Geddes Gengras, was simultaneously a condemnation and a coup. Working with singers responsible for gracing Lee Perry productions dating to the seventies could have resulted in calamitous reggae appropriations, even if name recognition was able to help the project get over.
“They’d never worked with anything like this before,” Stallones says of the music he and Gengras cultivated. “They’re a roots reggae band and are used to working in a roots reggae idiom. That was something that was a huge concern for us.”
The opening moments of “Icon Give Thank” toss out water lapping up against some undefined shore, a simple Rasta praise and thudding drums, giving the whole thing an organic feel as Stallones and Gengras emote electronically. It shouldn’t work, but by the time “Happy Song” glitches into existence, it becomes clear the Congos are able to adapt their collective tradition to a musical setting that must have been utterly foreign and new to them.
“The wonderful thing that happened was that they perceived the spirit of what we were doing, reacted to it and created song structures out of these tracks that have no organizing structure,” Stallones says. “It’s action/reaction, just trying to find an intuitive space… I’m just trying to get somewhere, perpetually.”
Stallones turned up on a few Pocahaunted recordings, added guitar to the short-lived Vibes project and played keys in Magic Lantern before recording as Sun Araw, granting him limitless musical space to inhabit. And while each project begs for a unique approach to collaboration, it’s as easy to pick out Stallones’ funky contributions on those earlier efforts as it is to recognize the ambient material on Magic Lantern’s 2008 “High Beams,” which would eventually morph into Sun Araw’s bedrock.
Wending his way through the expanses of Los Angeles’ underground psych scene, Stallones has emerged as a multi-instrumentalist capable of wrapping up diffuse influences neatly enough to insinuate himself into any new project with just about anyone as collaborator.
“The whole point of playing live, and playing music in general, is reaching for that element of discovery,” he says. “So, I need to feel as if I’m discovering something as it’s happening, or I get pretty quickly bored with it.”
For his pending “Inner Treaty,” Stallones again records on his own, tapping a few trusted companions for the tour bringing him through Chicago. The new disc continues the open-ended vamps and improvisations of “The Phynx,” but lacks grooves that made 2010’s “On Patrol” a unique entry into his canon.
Persisting throughout the new record’s six extended tracks is a bubbly, positive vibe that doesn’t sound directly related to Stallones’ Jamaican foray, but, in spirit, the musics share a common purpose. Digital birds chirp during “Grip” as delayed guitar summons the balmy shores he shared with the Congos. It’s all a spiritual trip governed by different omnipotent powers—Jah or nature and creativity.
“The act of creation, if entered into in the proper spirit, is in and of itself spiritual. Coleridge said it’s ‘a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite.’”
Continuing to explore the possibilities of music and expression, the Sun Araw project has only to contend with Stallones’ desires. And since his overwhelming impulse is to navigate the music world in pursuit of summum bonum, there could be a new spate of work on the horizon, working to jive with whatever newfound interest Stallones digs up.
“I haven’t run away from anything yet,” he says.
September 25 at Empty Bottle, 1035 North Western, (773)276-3600, 8pm. $10. “Icon Eye,” a film documenting Stallones’ time in Jamaica with the Congos, is set to screen prior to the performance.
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