Balmat co-founders Philip Sherburne and Albert Salinas have been fans of Shy Layers’ lilting, Balearic pop for years, so when Shy Layers’ JD Walsh asked us to listen to a set of demos he was working up with fellow Atlanta multi-instrumentalist Jeff Crompton, we jumped at the chance. And once we heard their work in progress, the decision was almost immediate: We have to release this.
Together, Walsh and Crompton are Anagrams, and their debut album together, Blue Voices, might initially seem like a departure from Balmat’s habitually electronic terrain. It’s not ambient music, but it’s also not not ambient music, at least to listeners in the right frame of mind. The two musicians, who met when Walsh moved from Brooklyn to Atlanta in 2016 and began collaborating a few years later, see the music in similarly ambiguous terms. “I like it because it’s not jazz,” jokes Crompton, a veteran and credentialed jazz player. “And JD likes it because it’s jazz.”
Across the album’s 11 tracks, there are faint echoes of familiar touchstones: the atmospheric twang of Daniel Lanois’ pedal steel on Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks; the mercurial modal runs of Ethio- jazz; the late-summer calm of Fuubutsushi; the versatility of players and composers like Patrick Shiroishi and Sam Gendel, who are asking similar questions about where jazz ends and some other, nameless territory begins. Mostly, though, what Blue Voices captures is the quixotic sound of two restless musical imaginations making it up as they go along, two voices discovering a shared language in a hitherto unexplored shade of blue.