Electric bassist Zach Teran makes his debut as a leader with this quartet recording, featuring melodic, genre-bending original material that draws on his many years of experience as a professional musician anchoring rock, jazz, and electronic music projects in the Reno, NV area. The compositions reflect a spacious sonic palate, with both wide-ranging grooves and timbres uncharacteristic of a small group with no guitarist or keyboardist. Teran accomplishes this by skillfully incorporating electronic effects in the middle and treble registers on a few tracks, complementing his precise touch on the electric bass.
Teran is also supported by Miguel Jimenez-Cruz’s versatile drumming throughout, although this is sometimes obscured by being low in the mix. Tenor saxophonist Chris Gillette and trumpeter Brandon Sherman navigate this expansive musical territory admirably, giving the album its timbral through-line as well as contributing inspired improvised solos when called upon to do so.
The writing takes a plaintive, melodic turn midway through the album with “Standing Rock” and “How Our Hearts Were,” expanding the emotional range beyond the more assertive opening tracks. The writing loses a bit of focus after the carefully mixed interlude “Flatiron 2,” although the improvisers fill the space well. Despite this, the album leaves a sense of having traversed an expansive territory, not unlike the long drives across the American West that many Nevadans make on a regular basis.
By JOHN SHAND
As Orenda Records' catalogue expands, so does both the scope of its music and the significance of the LA-based label. This, the debut album by bassist/composer Zack Teran, interweaves jazzy threads with streams of electronica, bursts of rock and more. Groove and drama are often uneasy bedfellows, the one tending to undermine the other, but not in Teran's work, the drama facet culminating in a soaring piece called The Keyhole. This is music always on the move to new destinations via an improbable collection of reference points. With Teran are trumpeter Brandon Sherman (who sometimes reminds me of the late Kenny Wheeler), Chris Gillette's incandescent tenor saxophone playing and Miguel Jimenez-Cruz's crisp drumming.
When this album gets catchy, there’s really no resisting it. Portalis will reel you in, hook line and sinker. But the moment of capture is a temporary state of being. It’s not long before Zack Teran and his quartet let go and start the process all over again.
What really gets me about this album is how its thoughts seem very scattered and that it could follow any direction at any time, and yet right when it appears another random change is in the works, an anthemic passage bursts from behind the clouds like a bold ray of sunlight, making everything it touches warm and happy and alive. It rarely manifests the same way twice. That randomness is half the reason for all the fun.
It’s in how “Along the Mountains in the Sky” skitters about dispensing little fragments of melody and then suddenly swells up for bold, thick statements of purpose. And there’s how sometimes Teran just leads right out with it. “Chasm” shows its true face right from the beginning and nothing about the rest of the tune changes that first impression, even as it goes about deviating from it in any number of ways. No different on “Meditation Space,” but where the previous track had a punchy, foot-tapping attitude, this time around the melody is treated as if it were used to paint a sky full of clouds lit up in sunset colors. Rhythmically, each of the album’s tracks fall into one of two categories: punchy attitude or a contented sigh. The result is that they feed off each other’s energy, where the contrast between the two tones makes each resonate that much stronger by way of comparison. And when viewed in the context of melodies in a transitory state, the constancy of the tempo causes the changes to stand out with distinction.
Your album personnel: Zack Teran (electric & acoustic bass, electronics, vocals), Chris Gillette (tenor saxophone), Brandon Sherman (trumpet) and Miguel Jimenez-Cruz(drums).
By Brad Bynum
“Along the Mountains in the Sky,” the first song on Portalis, the new album by Reno bassist Zack Teran, begins with a moody electronic soundscape, punctuated by understated saxophone and trumpet, like something from a sci-fi noir movie. Then the piece opens up into a couple of big melodic themes before settling into a jazz fusion groove that will appeal to fans of the Chicago post-rock band Tortoise. After a terrific trumpet solo, the sax returns alongside what sounds like a dramatic rock guitar solo but is actually played on bass. The melodic themes return briefly, and then the piece ends with a syncopated, ska-like rhythm that slowly fades out.
The song covers a lot of musical ground. So do the album’s other nine tracks. And covering a lot of ground was an inspiration for the album.
“A lot of the songs were written based on outdoorsy travels that I’ve done—hikes in the mountains,” Teran said during a recent interview.
Sometimes the inspiration would take the form a melody that would occur to him while on the hike, but often the process would just include him sitting with his instrument and writing music while reflecting back on his outdoor adventures.
“I don’t know if meditating is that right word—just thinking about that experience. … The space that that moment puts you in for writing music,” he said.
Teran was born in Mexico, grew up in Reno, and graduated from Reno High School and the jazz program at the University of Nevada, Reno. He’s played in local rock bands, like the Stops and Frendo, and in a wide variety of jazz gigs. He was a touring member of the world music group Sol Jibe, and he’s been a member of the literary indie act the Novelists for a decade. In that band, he learned two things: recording techniques, which helped him engineer Portalis, and improving his singing.
Most of Portalis was recorded in one day with help from Anna Santoro, using equipment borrowed from the Novelists. He wrote most of the music beforehand, but included solo sections for each of the players to improvise.
“I try to leave the music open enough so that the musicians who are playing it can also have some input and some say,” he said.
The players include tenor saxophonist Chris Gillette and trumpeter Brandon Sherman, both of whom Teran met through UNR.
“What’s great about their two styles is—to my ear, they blend really well, but they’re improvisational styles are completely different,” Teran said. “Chris—he can just shred on the saxophone, which is completely awesome. Brandon also can do that, but he’s much more colorful. He can play around with strange notes or colors on the trumpet.”
And the drummer on the session was prolific local player Miguel Jimenez-Cruz.
“He and I play all musics together—blues, jazz, funk,” Teran said. “He just started playing with the Novelists.”
Teran’s goal for the album was to write music with the same clarity of mind that comes after a long hike.
“I equate music to … going hiking and spending time outdoors,” he said. “You get this sense of connection to things that are happening around you that maybe are obscured by modern lifestyle. I wanted the music to also be a portal for listeners to either be introspective, or think about things in a different way, or just focus on music, or be meditative and feel connected to something else that they don’t usually feel connected to. I think music does that for people.”
Multi-talented bassist, composer and producer Zack Teran assembles a quartet of like-minded colleagues to present a strong original sound on his debut, Portalis. Teran adroitly balances a rhythmic groove informed by modern electronic music with the harmonic contours of modern jazz and timbral spectrum of mid-2000s indie rock, and vividly channels his impressions from time spent in the mountain landscapes of the American West.
Although Portalis is his first album as a leader, Zack Teran is a well-traveled member of the Northern Nevada musical community. Based in Reno, he has worked with an extensive list of figures from the greater jazz community including Peter Epstein, Adam Benjamin (Kneebody) and Art Lande and additionally, co-leads the folk-rock quartet, the Novelists, which has toured nationally to widespread acclaim for nearly 10 years. Teran's unique aptitude for covering multiple roles on the bass is proven by his masterful ability to anchor and lead groups simultaneously. He manages this balance with fluid melodicism, warm tone and precise, yet relaxed feel.
Teran's intention on Portalis is to offer a sense of place removed from the artificial environs of the city. Each of the ten tracks were inspired by remote journeys into the scenic terrain just outside of Reno and Boulder where Teran has made his home over the past decade. Stylistically, tracks such as “The Keyhole” and “Quake Delivery” reflect on a life and fluency operating in any number of popular music disciplines. They display the diversity of Teran’s open and osmosis-like musical consumption, which is evident in how varied influences intersect seamlessly across tracks.
Beyond the presence of nature as the driving force on Portalis, Teran takes occasion to express some sociopolitical commentary on tracks like “Standing Rock,” a hymn-like reflection honoring the mass protests against the installation of the Keystone Pipeline in South Dakota. Teran's intention in this piece is to remind people of both the heightened level of consciousness offered by nature and the threats posed to open spaces by non-sustainable life practices. As the playing between group members here is communal and synergistic, Teran's hope is to inspire people to live along similar lines between themselves and the remote places that inspired this music.
Joining Teran on Portalis are longtime collaborators Chris Gillette on tenor saxophone, Brandon Sherman on trumpet and Miguel Jimenez-Cruz on drums. With this ensemble and set of tunes, Teran offers a sincerely personal statement that invites audiences to engage with music as a sustainable and holistic life practice, creating accessibility to performers and listeners alike.