TRAVIS LAPLANTE’S relationship with music goes beyond the simple joys of performing and listening. The New York-based saxophonist and qigong healer sees sound as something elemental that can have a huge impact on listeners.
“The transcendent quality of music, that’s what I’m interested in,” he says, speaking from his home in Brooklyn. “It’s so mysterious that it’s hard to describe with words. But there’s something about being in the moment with everyone as a human and letting the movement come alive and take a hold of our hearts. It’s a transmission that I’ve felt and I know any music lover has felt. Something is happening there that is greater than the sum of all the parts.”
It was this kind of transmission that Laplante was hoping to create when he literally dreamt up his current group, Battle Trance. He says one morning he woke up with the clear specifics of this project in mind: a quartet of tenor saxophonists featuring Patrick Breiner, Jeremy Viner, Matthew Nelson, and himself. The only rub was that he didn’t know the men and was only vaguely aware of their work. But they all quickly came on board, drawn together by Laplante’s passion.
“I don’t remember exactly what I said,” he says, “but I probably spoke about the importance of resonance in this time and how through sound, the human heart can be opened in a real way. How I feel the power of music is really completely beyond my imagination.”
That power is evident in the two albums that Battle Trance has recorded and released so far: 2014’s Palace of Wind and Blade of Love last year. The quartet’s music is dense and precise, with long, languid passages made up of slowly melting melodies and the haunting sound of the players’ breath going through the instrument. Elsewhere, they embrace discordant tones and whirlpools of notes that call to mind Steve Reich’s abundant exercises in overtones and polyrhythms.
The enveloping quality of the sound is helped by the quartet’s use of circular breathing, that highly coveted skill where a player can inhale and exhale simultaneously, using stored air in the cheeks to produce nonstop tones. It’s something that all four members of Battle Trance can do, so that when they first met for a conversation and rehearsal, they joined together to play a low B flat for the better part of an hour.
“You have to work really hard on a physical, muscular level to execute these compositions,” Laplante says. “If I don’t practice it for a couple of days and then I have a Battle Trance performance, I’m in trouble.”
While the music community at large all seem to agree on Battle Trance’s greatness (Blade of Love landed in several Best of 2016 lists), there’s some potential debate in how one would categorize the group’s sound—the instrumentation and the members’ backgrounds would suggest jazz, but their compositions float between any firm classifications, something that Laplante sees as a point of pride.
“If someone calls us a jazz band, I’m fine with it,” he says. “I don’t really feel protective of any genre name. It’s really nice to be elastic where we can really skate over these kinds of scenes and genre. We can play one night at a concert hall, the next at a jazz club, and then a punk rock basement, and we’re not out of place in any of those contexts.”