Underground NYC Jazz Trio Reinvents Bartok
“Beyond category” definitely applies to the new album Book One by Little Worlds, the trio of trombonist Rick Parker (also of noir jazz sensation Beninghove’s Hangmen), guitarist Ryan Mackstaller and eclectic composer/drummer Tim Kuhl. Essentially, this is groove music, not what you might expect from genre-busting new arrangements of Bela Bartok etudes. At their Bandcamp site, where the album is streaming in its entirety, the trio dedicate it to “innovative reinterpretations of the Mikrokosmos collection,” the series of study pieces that Bartok finished in 1939. Others – notably Angela and Jennifer Chun a couple of years ago – have put their own individual spin on the collection, none as radically and bravely as Little Worlds.
The album tracks are as Bartok numbered them. No. 61 is basically a one-chord jam: Mackstaller’s guitar runs a riff that sounds straight out of indie rock as Parker carries the wistful tune over Kuhl’s trip-hop groove and it rises to an intricate web of melody. No. 81 is a brief two-minute exercise in precise counterpoint, Kuhl holding it to the straight and narrow as guitar and trombone diverge just a wee bit, Parker relaxing and somewhat amusingly telegraphing the ending. No. 35 is a triptych of sorts, twin drones morphing into stately harmonies and then a blend of atmospherics and warm melodicism. Beginning as a tone poem of squalling, psychedelically bluesy guitar in tandem with cumulo-nimbus trombone swirls as Kuhl ominously roams the perimeter, No. 48 is the most fascinating track here, Parker’s long, serioso lead eventually giving way and then weaving amidst Mackstaller’s distorted punk-classical lines. The trio close with the triumphant grand guignol of No. 80, done as a blustery march, both guitar and trombone blasting through an increasingly gritty haze of effects and then back with a vengeance. Who knew that etudes could be this much fun!
Would Bartok have approved of this? Without a doubt. Cross-pollination was his game, beginning with his immersion in folk and gypsy music a hundred years ago: if he was alive today, who knows, maybe he’d be writing for these guys. Or playing with them.
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