Invisible Rays is the result of a spontaneous collaboration between guitarist Henry Kaiser, bassist Trey Gunn, and drummer Morgan Ågren while they all happened to be in Scandinavia for a musical education conference. Having never previously collaborated together, these three gifted musicians, each with an impressive background in progressive rock and jazz music, found themselves with some studio time in Sweden and ceased the opportunity to improvise and record their jam sessions together. This ad hoc trio created Invisible Rays in a rather short period of time, and the result is an album of long, often jarring improvisations that should appeal to fans of avant-jazz rock on the more wacky side. Invisible Rays is an extremely long and challenging listening experience, and while it often lacks the compositional groundwork to sound like a coherent observation, this is still recommended to the more adventurous listener.
This trio have created a rather unique album with Invisible Rays, and while it can best be described as avant-garde jazz rock, I can't say I've ever heard very much like it. The compositions are very loose, especially on songs like the sprawling 22-minute title track, and it leaves plenty of room for the musicians to improvise to their heart's content. Morgan Ågren's drumming is often highly complex and challenging, and his drum patterns are more often used as a lead instrument than anything resembling a rhythm section - above all of the madness occurring in the drum department are complicated basslines from Trey Gunn and sprawling guitar improvisations from Henry Kaiser. With a few exceptions, the band still manages to sound like a cohesive unit, even if each member is often playing music that is seemingly independent from the rest of the trio. My biggest gripe with Invisible Rays is that, even though the musicianship is impeccable and the music can be quite fun at times, the songs lack any form of structure for the listener to grab onto. A decent chunk of the album feels like a bunch of disconnected musical fragments were hastily thrown together without any rhyme or reason, and while it can make for an intriguing experience from time to time, it hardly leaves any sort of lasting impression on the listener.
The sporadic and challenging nature of Invisible Rays may not have been such an issue if the album weren't over 71 minutes long, but the daunting playing time can really make this collection of improvisations a difficult listen for those not up to the challenge. Though I end up being left slightly underwhelmed (or overwhelmed, depending on how you look at it) by what this trio has to offer, I'd still be quite curious to hear what they create if they're given more studio time to compose and polish up their thoughts. There are plenty of great ideas throughout Invisible Rays, but it seems that the trio hasn't yet mastered the ability of turning those great ideas into great music. Still, if extremely challenging, improvisation-based jazz rock is up your alley, then you may want to give this a shot before taking my word for it. This is an acquired taste for sure, so I'd say a middle-of-the-road 2.5 stars are pretty fair. With a bit more focus and cohesiveness, there's no doubt that Invisible Rays could've been a much more satisfying album than it currently is.
1. Invisible Rays
2. The Magic Ring of Invisibility
3. Where Is Juan?
4. The Secret Handshake With Danger
5. Greatest Hits
6. The Last Guru
7. Take A Bath With Lenin
8. Ghost Red Wires
9. Invisibility Clause
10. Understudy To The Stars
11. An Unusually Nice Hotel