REVIEW: Spafford’s ‘Abaculus: An Improvisational Experience’

Words by Randy Harris

Spafford, the quartet from Phoenix, AZ, has by far become the break-out band of 2017, at least to those of us in the world of live improvisational music. From going on tour with jam band giants, such as Umphrey’s McGee, to embarking on their own headlining tours, Spafford has been taking the country by storm and enamoring audiences everywhere. On August 9, 2017, however, the quartet made up of Jordan Fairless (Bass/Vocals), Red Johnson (Keys/Vocals), Brian Moss (Guitar/Vocals) and Cameron Laforest (Drums/Vocals) released their most daring feat to date.

Abaculus: An Improvisational Experience was recorded live at The Pound, in their hometown of Phoenix, and consisted of a single hour-long jam session. That’s right. You heard me. 100% improvised. No song titles, no boundaries and no limitations.

I hope, from that brief description, that I’ve sold you on the concept. But can four musicians, who were practically unheard of a year ago, really pull this off? In the case of Spafford, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” Abaculus leads the listener on a roller coaster ride of melodic, uplifting, musical magic. Throughout the hour-long session, we are led over wave after wave of energetic build-ups, euphoric climaxes and and troughs of elated tranquility. The quartet succeeded in their goal of creating an immersive experience that truly represents the primary goal of live improvisation and puts it on display in a single-take recording.

It is easy to see why Spafford has gained so much steam this year. There are many different ways to show musical talent. Some musicians show excellence in pure songwriting. Some show it through shredding solos. As a fan of the live musical experience, however, it is my belief that the ability to improvise, to lead the audience on a journey, shows an ability that is beyond musical talent. The ability to listen. The ability to work together as a team. To unite a group of people they have never met before under a band’s ability to improvise as a group. To me personally, and probably to many of us who value the jam band scene, there can be no greater display of talent than live group improvisation. It is clear, with the release of Abaculus, that Spafford has a unique grasp on that ability. Their boldness in this project definitely paid off, and it is worth every second to listen in and immerse yourself in Abaculus.

You can see Spafford out on the road this fall as they undertake their most extensive tour to date. Check below for a full listing of upcoming tour dates.

Spafford 2017 Tour Dates

9/2 – Chicago, IL @ North Coast Music Festival
9/9 – Bellvue, CO @ Canyon Jam
9/21 – 9/23 – Thornville, OH @ Resonance Music Festival
9/27 – Charlottesville, VA @ The Southern
9/28 – Baltimore, MD @ The 8X10
9/29 – Philadelphia, PA @ The Foundry @ The Fillmore
9/30 – Brooklyn, NY @ Brooklyn Bowl
10/1 – Ithaca, NY @ The Haunt
10/3 – South Burlington, VT @ Higher Ground Showcase Lounge
10/4 – Hamden, CT @ The Ballroom at The Outer Space
10/5 – Northampton, MA @ Iron Horse Music Hall
10/6 – Cambridge, MA @ The Sinclair
10/7 – Portland, ME @ Port City Music Hall
10/8 – Albany, NY @ Lucky Strike Social
10/11 – State College, PA @ State Theatre
10/12 – Columbus, OH @ A&R Music Bar
10/13 – Bloomington, IN @ Bluebird Nightclub
10/14 – Ann Arbor, MI @ Blind Pig
10/15 – Grand Rapids, MI @ The Pyramid Scheme
10/17 – Madison, WI @ Majestic Theatre
10/19 – Columbia, MO @ Rose Music Hall
10/20 – Nashville, TN @ Mercy Lounge
10/21 & 10/22 – Asheville, NC @ Asheville Music Hall
10/24 – Charlotte, NC @ Visulite Theatre
10/25 – Athens, GA @ 40 Watt Club
10/27 – 10/29 – Live Oak, FL @ Suwannee Hulaween
10/31 – New Orleans, LA @ Parish @ House of Blues
11/2 – Baton Rouge, LA @ Spanish Moon
11/3 – Houston, TX @ White Oak Music Hall Upstairs
11/4 – Austin, TX @ Antone’s Night Club
11/5 – Dallas, TX @ HoB Cambridge Room
11/7 – Lawrence, KS @ The Bottleneck
11/8 – Omaha, NE @ The Waiting Room
11/9 – Denver – CO @ Ogden Theatre
11/11 – Denver, CO @ Globe Hall
11/14 – Seattle, WA @ Crocodile Cafe
11/15 – Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
11/16 – San Francisco, CA @ The Independent
11/17 – Los Angeles, CA @ Teragram Ballroom
11/18 – Flagstaff, AZ @ Orpheum Theater

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