Twin Peaks Music from WA
Think of the opening bars of Nature Boy – but try not to imagine Nat Cole singing it. Just hum the tune to yourself. Creepy, isn’t it? What the Seattle-based quartet WA – as in Washington – have done on their new album, Cross the Center, out on the enterprising Table and Chairs label, is to improvise a series of variations on that riff. Alternating between morose and menacing, it’s hard to think of a more intense thirty minutes of music that’s been released this year. The whole thing is streaming at Bandcamp (something that all jazz labels should be doing, by the way).
It takes awhile to get going. Guitarists Simon Henneman and CJ Stout open it with an uneasy clang, then drummer Gregg Keplinger lopes and rumbles purposefully as Henneman fires off elephantine blasts of noise, eventually joined a little less exuberantly by Stout. After about ten minutes of this – they call it Funfun – Nature Boy is introduced and within seconds, Henneman begins judiciously reinventing it as terse noir theme. Using a dry tone with plenty of reverb and occasional wah, he moves it a little more outside with care and concern, eventually throwing off a couple of spiraling glissandos as the menace builds. The band eventually goes quiet and atmospheric, then brings the riff back and the menace along with it. Then they bring back the shifting sheets of sound filtering in and then out of the picture, Henneman’s matter-of-factness matched by Keplinger. The final variation, titled Carcassi, has both guitarists utilizing a cleaner, tremoloing tone, subsituting more of a chordal approach than the simple, subtly vibrato-tinged single-note lines that Henneman has been employing up to this point. The effect is absolutely chilling, and Lynchian (appropriate for a Twin Peaks-area band, huh?). There’s another band member, Sean Lane, credited with “bicycle and electronics” – sonically, it’s not clear where he fits into picture, whether percussionwise or otherwise.
By the way – this is apropos of nothing other than the possible origin of the song – if you think that the opening bars of Nature Boy have a gypsy quality, be aware that the opening lick is identical to the very beginning of Dvorak’s Second Piano Quintet.
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