Lucid Culture


CD Review: The Flail – A Night at Smalls

Popular in Europe but not yet widely known on this side of the pond, this album will doubtlessly help the Flail reach a wider audience here in the US. Captured live on a particularly inspired night at the popular New York jazz joint Smalls last November, the recording quality here is terrific: there’s virtually no audience noise except the applause at the end of a song or two, and Jean-Marie Migot’s production (he also works with French psychedelic cult artist Jacques Dutronc) perfectly balances the instruments. The quintet’s previous album Never Fear (whose title track is featured here in a much more adventurous version including a somewhat devious bass solo) was a gorgeous collection of smartly arranged songs without words. This one shows the band going out further on a limb while retaining the melodicism that has been their strongest suit. The album opens with a swing number by pianist Brian Marsella titled I Love France, morphing into a tricky polyrhythmic knot and then back to the melody again. Of the two covers here, Ellington’s Oclupaca (if anything Ellington ever did has been underrated, it’s his Latin American Suite, where this one originates) is the best, a lovingly spot-on reinvention whose eerie bossa melody slips and slides out the door and then back in again to see how many people are paying attention. They also tackle Monk’s Trinkle Tinkle, which Smalls’ owner characterized as “Monk on acid” (does anything Monk ever did sound like he wasn’t tripping at the time?) 


Bassist Reid Taylor’s ebullient Permaflail II, the first part of an unfinished suite, underscores the band’s evident raison d’etre (their definition of “flail” is to “swing like crazy,” this one definitely in the Jason Giambi/Cliff Johnson category. Baseball fans, particularly Yankee fans, will get that one). The album concludes with two cuts by Marsella. No Sex in Spain is a true story (even the hookers were apparently on siesta), but it’s not what you might think, no tense crescendos that end up going nowhere: instead, it’s the piano working with trumpeter Dan Blankinship and saxist Stephan Moutot, building a slinky lounge number as drummer Matt Zebroski playfully kidney-punches the melody with strategically placed offbeats. The tune ends with more than a hint that things didn’t end up as badly as the title would suggest. The cd’s final cut, Slightly Cool is something of a departure for them, a wild “bebop vortex,” as the Flail’s press kit puts it, something they’d like to play as they accept their first Grammy. A joke, of course: this one’s as far outside as the band gets, a brisk run accented by Blankinship line drives all over the place. Not to jinx this unit, but it’s been nice watching them evolve: now’s your chance to get to know them before what promises to be the usual inevitable tour of the big-ticket, big-bucks festivals and clubs. The Flail plays Smalls on Friday, June 27 with sets at 10:30 and around midnight.


June 10, 2008 - Posted by | Music, Reviews

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