Tim Kuhl’s Doomsayer – A Real Change of Pace
As a bandleader, Brooklyn drummer Tim Kuhl has made a name for himself for accessible, free-spirited, guitar-based melodic jazz with some neat and unexpectedly extemporaneous twists and turns. His new album Doomsayer – streaming in its entirety at Kuhl’s bandcamp – is a radical departure for him, at least as far as recordings are concerned. It’s like what Kid A was for Radiohead – except that Kuhl’s previous albums as a bandleader, 2009’s Ghost, and King from the year before, are both good. Is this burp-and-fart music, as Maria Schneider derisively calls some free jazz? No. It’s not very accessible, but it’s full of interesting ideas and melody that pops out, sometimes at the last possible minute. Kuhl’s committed and remarkably cohesive supporting cast consists of mostly New York-based free jazz names including Michael Formanek on bass, Ben Gerstein on trombone, Jonathan Goldberger on guitar, Frantz Loriot on viola and Jonathan Moritz on saxes.
It’s not clear why the tracks are color-coded – Red, Green, Gold, etc. A spaciously thumping drum solo kicks it off. Later on there are a couple of extremely cool tone poems of sorts, the group peeling back a bit from a central drone for a doppler effect of sorts. Except for a skronky-tinged solo on the next-to-last track and some gingerly ominous foreshadowing on the final number, Goldberger’s guitar is limited to providing oscillating loops or drones. Kuhl is the bad cop here and he has a great time with the role, particularly on the second cut, Gold, an almost sixteen-minute suite that hints at blues – it’s like a blues on Pluto, verrrrry slow – before a lull accented with creepy, creaky input from various bandmates, followed by a fox-in-the-henhouse routine that eventually works its way into a bracingly atonal swing shuffle.
Kuhl’s smoke-signal accents contrast potently with a wary shout or two from the sax or trombone, and Loriot’s suspensefully rustling viola, on the next track, titled Green. Formanek gets a couple of chances to play tersely yet rather majestically a bit later on. An eleven-minute excursion features some thoughtful conversing between Gerstein and Moritz followed eventually by an artfully layered, classically-tinged shift of textures from one voice to the next before they collapse in a crazed tumble. And the disembodied, ghostly voices against a guitar drone, in White, are a real treat. The album ends with what sounds like a long study in how to hint at coalescing with a circular rhythm: where it goes is the surprise. There’s also a vividly plaintive hidden track that recalls Kuhl’s earlier work, if a lot more rubato. Easy listening? Hardly. Good listening? Absolutely: it’ll get you from Bushwick to midtown and back again, literally if not figuratively, and it’ll keep you awake the whole time.
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