A Brief Look at The Secret Chiefs 3 – “Xaphan: The Book of Angels, Vol. 9”

Hearing new and fascinating music is always time to rejoice. This summer, on a trip from Japan to the United States, I stopped into one of my favorite indie record stores to stock up on new music. One of the releases I purchased is from an engaging and original band/project, “The Secret Chiefs 3”. I remember first hearing SC3 on the infamous Amarillo Records sampler, “You Gant Boar Like An Eabla When You Work With Turkeys” This compilation of Amarillo artists, featured the SC3 song “Assassin’s Blade.” Years later, with my mouth agape, I would hear them perform this gem live at an intimate venue in Detroit, Michigan, USA. Now, in 2008, the Secret Chiefs have created a handful of masterfully self-produced albums and are currently touring in Europe.

The CD release that I purchased this summer, while performed by The Secret Chiefs, consists of pieces composed by New York composer/saxophonist, John Zorn, for his ongoing Masada Series on his own “Tzadik” label. The pieces on “Xaphan: The Book of Angels, Vol. 9” were composed by Zorn and arranged by Trey Spruance, the leader of The Secret Chiefs. In comparison to other Masada releases, the SC3 “style” comes through vividly and the work of Spruance as “arranger” is apparent in the instrumentation and overall “feel” of the pieces. Moreover, this album provides a sturdy bridge from Zorn’s work to Spruance’s work; it is a valuable connecting point for both composers, which clearly showcases their mutual genius. As noted on the inside cover, a majority of the album’s rhythm section (Drums/Bass) was recorded in New Jersey, while other instruments were overdubbed on the West Coast. This is baffling to me, as the performances on each piece are seamless and fluid, with a crisp, tight “live” sound. One can easily imagine this being performed in a “band” context.

I do not know what the word “Xaphan” means and I am yet to read or discover an actual “book of angels,” but this album has illuminated me to what both of those ideas could mean and the world that this album has helped me create is dense, lucid, and enchanting, beyond mere verbal description. It is akin to traversing the waters to a yet unknown world, a world that will change the way that you experience music; it is a wholly fascinating world to those willing to take the trip.

Aside from the rare Amarillo Records releases, the full Secret Chiefs 3 catalog can be purchased through the “Mimicry Records” online music store. For more information about The Secret Chiefs 3 and other Mimicry artists, please visit their website and see the following links:

Web of Mimicry
Tzadik

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3 thoughts on “A Brief Look at The Secret Chiefs 3 – “Xaphan: The Book of Angels, Vol. 9”

  1. Jeff Jefferson

    I don’t have a lot to say in reply, but I will add that I remember my first listen to the Secret Chiefs 3 pretty well. So many details add to this first time with the group, that it’s no wonder I hold it apart from subsequent time with their music. The CD played was yours: you, and I believe Alan and Eric and I (I don’t remember if John was there too–I don’t think so) were in Chicago in some swanky hotel, either preparing for or unwinding from an evening with King Crimson. I believe we had just arrived in Chicago and were unwinding from a long drive. I don’t remember the hotel room’s details, but I can see the colors: dark blacks in contrast with moderate lighting, swirling with bold-colored curtains and accents. We all only wanted to relax, our ears and brains open to music, and you turned on some Secret Chiefs 3. I remember the sound system being excellent: but it’s possible that all these other details made the music that much better. Everything fit for the Secret Chiefs 3 in that moment. The music blew me away. Its sounds were so crisp and precise with energy, and I couldn’t resist. It was excellent.

    I don’t have much of a point to this post, just reminiscing. I often think of that moment when I think of the Secret Chiefs 3.

  2. Pingback: Avant Music News » Vladimir Bozar

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