I was not planning on blogging while on vacation here in Saratoga. But news arrived this weekend of the death of guitarist/bassist Jason Noble, and I felt he deserved at least a few words.
Jason was the founder of the post-rock band called Rachel's. In fact, initially, he WAS Rachel's. And back in the mid-90s, there was no such thing as "post-rock," but along with Tortoise (in Chicago), Rachel's was one of the trailblazers of an instrumental style that melded rock and classical sounds. If you're a fan of bands like Godspeed! You Black Emperor, or Mogwai, then you're hearing the long-lasting echoes of Jason's work.
When I first met Jason, back in '98 or '99, I'd been playing Rachel's music (not sure how to write the possessive form of that name) for several years. I asked him how the band came together. Jason, typically, said that he had started in a band on the Louisville punk scene... neglecting to mention that his band was in fact Rodan, itself a fairly important post-hardcore group that released a single but influential album, 1994's "Rusty."
Rachel's quickly grew to be a surprising combo of classical strings and piano (played, coincidentally, by Rachel Grimes, which inevitably gave rise to the idea that the band had been named for her), with bass and drums and occasional guitar. Lyrical, rhythmic, and evocative, their music showed the influence of Minimalism, late Romanticism, and rock. The band released five full-length LPs, an EP, and a split LP with the band Matmos. They never officially broke up, but their final performance - though none of us knew it at the time - was at one of my New Sounds Live concerts at Merkin Hall on May 25, 2006. I had booked Rachel's and the group Clogs, the like-minded ensemble that shares members with the top-shelf indie-rock band The National. One of those members, guitarist Bryce Dessner, told us onstage how excited he was to be sharing a bill with Rachel's, a band that he said was hugely influential to him.
The members of the group were all doing different things by then - dance scores, other bands, etc. Jason had formed The Shipping News, a decidedly noisier band, with his former Rodan teammate Jeff Mueller, and they released several discs too.
Then, in 2009, Jason was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer. He entered an experimental trial that had him going back and forth to Houston for treatment. He began a blog on Caring Bridge, which takes us from the early days of treatment to his death on Saturday and makes for gripping but heartbreaking reading.
But he never stopped working, and would occasionally tout the work of others too. He sent me one-off projects as they came up, but he'd also send recordings by other bands from Louisville that he thought I'd like - bands like Sandpaper Dolls and The For Carnation - and his choices were almost always spot on.
In 2011, Jason and fellow Rachel's members Christian Frederickson and Greg King wrote and recorded a wonderful score for a Louisville production of Shakespeare's "Tempest," which I thought was simply one of the best albums of the year. It was like the long-lost Rachel's album we fans had always wanted to believe was coming.
Two weeks ago, it occurred to me that I hadn't heard from Jason in a while, and I wrote an email just to see how he was feeling. Then I thought "better" of it - if he was doing well I was afraid my note might seem ghoulish, and if he wasn't, I didn't want to intrude - so I hit "delete" instead of "send."
For some reason, this made the weekend's news feel doubly bad. Jason, who was 40, died on Saturday. Louisville's music scene, which, as I've learned over the years (largely thanks to Jason), is a surprisingly vibrant and diverse one, has lost a major player and booster. And the music world has lost a quiet pioneer.