Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

What’s Up with Ask the Oracle

Ask the Oracle is a deliciously uncategorizable album. Is it world music? Maybe. Free jazz? Some of it, definitely. It’s the brainchild of alto sax player Andy Haas, who thirty years after he played the iconic sax break on Martha & the Muffins’ Echo Beach, returned to Toronto to join forces with some of his old hometown’s new-ish improvisational talent. Besides Haas (who also plays flute and the Korean hojok reed instrument), the crew includes Colin Fisher on guitar, guzheng, tanbour and tenor sax, Aaron Lumley on bass, Brandon Valdivia on percussion, mbira and dzavadzimu, and Matthew “Doc” Dunn on drums. What does it sound like? You have to take this one track by track.

The first cut, Surfing to Canada, reminds of Peter Buck’s Tuatara project, but more corrosive. Over a gently clattering no wave shuffle beat, Fisher fires off screaming, tremolo-picked guitar in the distance against Haas’ calmly scrambling atmospherics that eventually build to a series of aggravated clusters. Track two, Ass Gamelan, sparsely integrates the lutes for a nebulously Moroccan-tinged take on Indonesian bell music: it wouldn’t be out of place in the Tribecastan catalog. After the similarly hypnotic, Asian-flavored Before the Clouds Come featuring Valdivia’s plinky mbira, they blast through the punk-jazz Tag Track Locate, basically a coda and variations that clock in at under two minutes.

A tone poem of sorts, Scattered Through the Strings is exactly as the title describes it, rippling, glissandoing lutes and then Haas’ alto elevating just a little over over the creaky rattle behind him. Why Is the Devil Here is a vaudevillian swing tune wearing a jajouka disguise, wave after wave of blaring reeds (Haas playing alto and hojok simultaneously). The most memorable tune here, a warped Middle Eastern waltz with jangly tanbour, Dance with a Jinn contrasts spiky textures with ominously boomy drums. They close the album with the blazing, buzzy Curse of the Horns, the most traditional “free jazz” track here (if you buy the idea that free jazz can possibly be traditional), a series of alternate universes that peacefully coexist until a couple of clever false endings. Who is the audience for this? Anyone who likes a unique sound that defies pigeonholing. Haas has been a force in improvisational music for years in New York; watch this space for upcoming live shows.

February 7, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Hypnotic, Wary Sax Soundscapes from Andy Haas

Andy Haas, formerly with new wave rock legends Martha & the Muffins (that’s his sax break on the classic Echo Beach), is a fascinating and extremely eclectic alto saxophonist capable of leaping from blues to ballads to punk to the Middle East in the span of seconds and somehow making it all work. Most recently he’s been a part of hypnotic, tuneful groove unit Radio I Ching. His new solo album Paradise of Ashes is a characteristically diverse collection of memorable, brief (usually around three-minute) songs without words, beautifully and often apprehensively lyrical. Haas favors a clear tone, a comfortable legato attack and hits the tunes straight-on – he doesn’t blow crazy clusters or waste notes. If you want to be really stuffy about his this, you could call it “electroacoustic.” Some of the stuff here has a trip-hop feel; the rest is basically a bedroom album, Haas’ sax backed by various acoustic and electronic rhythms. It’s sort of a higher-register counterpart to Paula Henderson’s cinematic baritone sax-and-laptop project Secretary.

The strongest tracks here are his originals. New Maladies of the Soul, which opens the disc, is a gorgeous, darkly memorable tango of sorts – it wouldn’t be out of place in the Paul Desmond songbook. A bit later, the title track shifts cleverly from lyrical warmth to latin-tinged noirisms. Haas tackles Americana with a warm bucolic sway in the same vein as Jeremy Udden’s recent work, via George Jones’ Cup of Loneliness and the traditional number The Devil Is Loose in the World, the latter with backward masked vocals (too bad this isn’t vinyl – you could spin it backwards and find out what the devil has to say!).

Haas mines the classical Arabic songbook for Mohamed Abdel Wahab’s Enta Omri and later Said Darwish’s Khalliha Alallah, in both cases taking the lead melody somewhat out of context and placing it atop a percussion track, the Darwish piece utilizing hypnotic goblet drum and tambourine for a sort of Indian ambience. The last three tracks here – Every Time We Say Goodbye, Bonjour Tristesse and It’s Only a Paper Moon – contrast terse, gently affecting melody lines against disquieting, clattering, occasionally exploding mechanical beats, the last one an evil drone straight out of the David Lynch soundtrack manual. The whole thing makes a great late-night headphone album. Echo Beach, far, faraway in time!

March 13, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, jazz, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment