Rachel’s: “NY Snow Globe” (Systems/Layers, 2003)

I just got word that Jason Noble, the Louisville bassist/composer/multi-instrumentalist who helped to define the Louisville, Kentucky, indie rock scene in Rodan, Rachel’s and The Shipping News, lost his three-year battle with synovial sarcoma, a rare cancer of the soft tissues. He was 40. 

I didn’t know Noble, but I think I would have liked to. In every interview I ever read with him, he came across as friendly and self-effacing, but never to a fault. The fact that near the end of his too-short life he was still playing with some of the same people who taught him music in the first place, more than twenty years earlier, says something in his own right about the kind of collaborator he was. 

Another indicator of how much he and the other members of Rachel’s, the long-running chamber rock ensemble he co-founded with Christian Frederickson and Rachel Grimes, is the credits for any Rachel’s album (the band wasn’t named after Grimes—it was named after Noble’s hatchback). It’s common to see a member of the band sitting out a song if there’s place for that member. Noble himself wrote several pieces of music he didn’t play on for the group, and there is a general sense of people giving themselves to the project on those records rather than demanding that the project serve as their showcase. 

"NY Snow Globe" was written by Noble, and it features him and Grimes playing piano together. It’s the last song on the last Rachel’s album, 2003’s Systems/Layers

I love that record. It’s strange and fragmented, with 19 tracks that mix instrumentals with field recordings and snippets of people talking. It moves through those things in such a way that they sound inseparably tied to one another, like a suite not just of music but also of the act of living. When I’m working late at night, it’s the album I’m most likely to put on to stimulate my own creativity. 

So a quiet toast to Jason Noble this Sunday evening. I am sad to have lost him so young.