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Born of a weekly Sunday jam session at the now-closed Joli Rouge in Asheville, North Carolina, the E. Normus Trio has been a project of Jay Sanders and Steve Alford since they met playing “Rhapsody in Blue” in 2007. Contrary to speculation, the group is not named for its exotic instrumentation and the ranges they provide, but is instead the pedigreed namesake of Alford’s sizable leonberger, Norman E. Normus. As a puppy, Norman was a regular listener at those Sunday sessions.
Originally taking an almost whimsical approach to the bare bones horn/bass/drums jazz trio concept, the sound of the group began a major transformation with Sanders’ switch from acoustic bass to the N/S Stick, an 8-string multi-mode instrument that covers the ranges of both a bass and a guitar. At the heart of the huge sound generated by the group is Sanders’ ability to take on two roles at once, covering what would normally be played separately by both a bassist and guitar player. This “one brain controlling two voices,” as Alford calls it, creates an eerie effect in the sound, and results in a symbiosis that is simply unachievable with bass and guitar played individually. This nucleus paired with Alford’s vocalized and primal lead voice, six octaves of sweeping clarinet range, creates a sonic palette unlike any other trio out there. To this mix, add Michael W. Davis, who brings incredible jazz sensitivity coupled with huge power generated not by volume, but with an utterly superhuman control of the time.
Compared to many studio projects these days, Love and Barbiturates was recorded with very little overdubbing. The contra-bass clarinet and alto clarinet on “The Long Boots of Age” are an obvious example of studio magic, but amazingly enough the album is recreated live by the group with very little variance in texture and layering. The debate is still ongoing as to whether this is a jazz, rock, or soul record, or something new altogether. As music genre labels are generally the product of hindsight, that debate will be discussed and determined by others.
"For those who prefer post-rock outfits that stray into jazz territory, this one is for you. A trio of clarinet, drums, and an N/S Stick (a stringed instrument that doubles as guitar and bass). Lots of primal screaming and throaty missives, with a pleasant undercurrent of drums and percussion. Some cool music here that sometimes rocks, sometimes floats on a sea of tranquility." ~ emusic