In his early writings, philosopher Søren Kierkegaard utilized various pseudonyms to present distinctive viewpoints and to interact with each other in complex dialogues. Throughout its history, jazz musicians have also adopted similar approaches – particularly relying on cosmic iconography – to better push their personal creative boundaries. One recent example is the three members of The Comet is Coming calling themselves “King Shabaka”, “Danalogue”, and “Betamax”. Perhaps the best-known case, however, is Herman Blount using the moniker Sun Ra. Keyboardist, producer, and composer Eric Borders likewise creates a cosmic persona for himself using the moniker Captain Supernova (often shortened to C.SN) to explore music he otherwise wouldn’t be able to release under his own name. Such sounds are perhaps best seen on last October’s The Voyage Never Ends…, an album which very much flew under the radar and is now being released as a separate instrumental version.
As both Ra and Borders adopted alien-sounding names and backstories and play the same instrument, it may be tempting to view the more recent as a tribute of sorts to the elder. However, there are more differences between them than similarities. The former claimed to be a foreigner visiting our planet from Saturn but the latter’s character is one of us going outward – an astronaut traveling through space and sending his message back to earth. This difference also drastically shapes their variance in musical influences. While Ra presented sounds never before heard, C.SN’s creativity comes less from the unheard and more from his role as a metaphorical turntablist – dicing and mixing sci-fi scores and sound effects, jazz-fusion, progressive rock, soul, funk, 70’s R&B, and, arguably, 90’s nu-jazz into a new entrée. The Voyage Never Ends… appears eerily familiar due to its readily identifiable components – at times sounding like Yussef Kamaal’s Black Focus (“Breathing”) and others like Terrace Martin’s Velvet Portraits (“Reveal Within”) – but also oddly unfamiliar as those sounds are mixed in ways not before examined.
Stream Captain Supernova’s The Voyage Never Ends…
With the exception of Borders himself on various instruments including the Fender Rhodes, synths, piano, vocoder, bass, and talkbox, bassist Scott Fulton, and drummer Julian Hogan, there isn’t a consistent band across all of the tracks. It is not clear whether this was a deliberate choice by the artist or a logistical one. However, the inconsistent lineup adds a further air of mystery to the occasion. Pianist Mark de Clive-Lowe ( whose Heritage duology was among Nextbop’s Best Jazz Albums of 2019) guests on three tracks. One, “Voyage to Nowhere,” also features the equally underrated Josh Johnson sounding very much like a young Hubert Laws on flute.
The original version of the album also includes vocalist Angela Muhwezi on several songs and Made by Crooks and Natalie Oliveri on one each. The vocal pieces at times have an earworm-like almost annoyingly catchy quality to them. They also clearly express the bandleader’s intentions, addressing topics ranging from finding a place to decompress from stress to a distance growing between two lovers.
The new instrumental version of The Voyage Never Ends… is a bit of a misnomer as some vocals – background and samples – are left intact while removing the leads and Borders’ vocoder in their entirety. At some points the absence is left bare while on others it is filled with what appears to be improvised keyboard or piano solos. The updated release provides obvious opportunities for sampling by future artists, but the changes are more significant than that. Although they somewhat undermine the artists’ messages, the revisions simultaneously add more color by better showcasing the instrumentalists on the originals. For instance, on “Breathing”, Wes Singerman’s scorching electric guitar solo sounds even more jarring. Or on “Endless Maze” the sealing out of the vocoder renders a subsequent synthesizer part to sound more audacious.
Regardless of the specific release, one is also left wondering whether there is more meaning or substance lurking beneath the surface than meets the eye. This is suggested both by a clip at both the beginning and end of the album referencing Kierkegaard, as well as the Captain’s first name previously being mentioned as Hermenius – arguably a reference to hermeneutics. Perhaps these threads may be examined further by the artist in the future.
With or without lyrics, The Voyage Never Ends… is a strange trek. To say it is all over the map musically would seem to be an understatement. It seems like the Captain disregarded any preset path years ago and is instead following his own self-determined course across the universe. Nevertheless, it is ultimately an enjoyable journey for which listeners are fortunate to be invited aboard his ship.
The Voyage Never Ends…, the new album by Captain Supernova is out now via Ropeadope Records. The Voyage Never Ends… (Instrumental) drops tomorrow.
Rob Shepherd is a Tax and Estate Planning Attorney and CPA in Austin, Texas. He is obsessed with music, especially jazz. Rob also plays a number of musical instruments, focusing primarily on the saxophone. One of his horns includes his self-restored 1920s Buescher C-Melody sax.