From their chance beginnings in 1998, Canada’s The New Deal – Jamie Shields, Darren Shearer, and Dan Kurtz – have been largely focused on a single task: recreating the DJ experience solely through live instrumentation. And it wouldn’t take long before the trio was accomplishing that task with high energy performances that garnered the attention of instrumental enthusiasts the world over. But ultimately it was the serendipitous timing of an emerging live electronica scene that would propel The New Deal to national prominence. And with their liberal taping policy allowing for quick dissemination of recorded shows via online archives, The New Deal would slowly, but surely earn their place in the pantheon of contemporary jam. On their most recent, official release, Live: Toronto, 7.16.2009, the troupe showcases the sum total of their decade long focus, captured here, in high-fidelity.
By virtue of The New Deal’s purist inclinations – forgoing even simple looping in favor of a wholly live experience – many songs throughout Live: Toronto function under a similar formula: synthesizer riffs set the melody, differing guises of effects ranging from celestial to extraterrestrial, as bass and drums build tension to soaring peaks, release, and then repeat. What results is a largely amorphic, continuously playing album that’s trance inducing in its unremitting amble. And as songs meld together in increasingly hypnotic configurations of sound, it becomes clear that The New Deal has acquired an impressive ability to play as big as contemporaries, STS9 and followers like Lotus, despite their smaller roster and the added limitation of forgoing any computer aided enhancements. Ironically, these perceived constraints engender certain awe in the sheer amount of sound that just three musicians can produce in this, their jazz-fusion-made-techno world.
With nearly every track capturing a transition between songs, Live: Toronto is actually a mixture of 11 separate songs and jams, despite its six track listing. And the slights of hand employed throughout these transitions prove one of the album’s most compelling draws. On “Gnome” > “Where It Is” a sonic tempest built on terse key strikes and insistent drumming gives way to vast spacial expanses whose heavenly ease is immediately reminiscent of Lotus’ “Spiritualize.” And again ears are amazed as a “Deep Sun” (think “Launchpad,” by another one of the New Deal’s followers, Particle) detonates into pulsating “Lights On,” and, after some impromptu jamming, returns seamlessly back to “Deep Sun.” Here, Shearer (drums) and Kurtz (bass) exhibit a particular synergy that allows them to manipulate tempos, key changes, and overall motifs with an uncanny sense of oneness, affording Shields the ability to play with abandon, reaching rave-ready plateaus with convincing authority.
Album-closing, “Gone Gone Gone,” veritably explodes as its tempo accelerates to ever higher speeds with the audience’s fevered response offering yet another spark in the already free flowing electricity of Live: Toronto. And though The New Deal may have countless other live recordings archived online, this one could very well be the defining chronicle of their efforts to capture the proverbial lightning in a bottle of the DJ culture. An elusive balance of dance-minded songwriting, energized delivery, and polished executions of even the most intricate of transitions should prove an irresistible call to those rave and instrumental-minded alike. Further still, a series of unscripted jams offer listeners music that existed only on 7.16.2009, and could quite possibly never be played live again. And though this album shouldnUt be a substitute for their live shows, it should hold over fans of the sporadically touring New Deal, while making converts of those as of yet uninitiated.