Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Bad Luck, Great Album

Bad Luck is free jazz at its best, the Seattle duo of Christopher Icasiano on drums and glockenspiel and Neil Welch on saxophones, bass clarinet and singing bowls, playing through what’s sometimes a maze of loops and effects. Their new album, simply titled Two, is a sprawling double-disc set. The first, titled Bats (as in completely batty, maybe?), is pure improvisation; the second, Josephine, an intriguing mix of compositions and inspired jamming. It’s amazing how interesting all this is, especially since much of the instrumentation is limited to just sax and drums. And as much as this often goes way out on a limb, it’s also very tight. When free jazz is good, it tends to be because of the interplay and chemistry between the musicians, and while that’s a factor here, this album is more about carrying out assigned roles. Typically, this means Welch as bad cop and Icasiano as the opposite, but not always.

Bats is assaultive right off the bat, with noxious blasts of tenor sax exhaust over endless machine-gun drum volleys. Culled from a marathon six-hour studio session, it seems to be a theme and variations, simple ones that bludgeon the listener – ugly as much of this is, it’s blissfully adrenalizing. And Icasiano isn’t merely playing rolls around the kit – he came into this with a plan. Midway through, he locks in with the sax (foreshadowing what’s to come on the second disc), then methodically bludgeons his way through Olympic leapfrogging sprints and a couple of lethal hailstorms. Meanwhile, Welch blares and blasts, often working octave motifs bar after anguished bar. Finally, on the sixth segment, he finds some peace, launching into a cheery blues riff that he runs over and over while Icasiano muffles his full-throttle enthusiasm. And then he goes for a full-bore surf rumble as Welch takes his time rising to meet the wave. The concluding track, playfully titled Lure, has Welch establishing something approximating a melody over Icasiano’s casually stampeding attack.

The suite on the second cd is a masterpiece of aggressively creepy noir jazz. If Josephine is to be taken at face value, she’s a complicated girl, going from lively to practically comatose to extremely agitated, generally when least expected. It opens with a ghostly, spacious, skeletal glockenspiel piece and then the menacing Friends or Foe. Welch sets the stage with a macabre sax loop, drums moving slowly upward with a murderous deliberateness, evil insistent foghorn sax eventually taking the foreground. The title track initially follows as a contrast, sparsely atmospheric sax lines woven together, expanding to a catchy, staggeringly funky hook, Icasiano picking up the rhythm and running with it. From there they go up, and down, and back again. It’s quite a ride.

The two lock together on the next cut with a jaunty bass clarinet hook, a haze of overtones lingering in the background. True North is all wariness and suspense, with a hint of a fanfare, a deliciously slow crescendo as the drums prowl their way in from the outskirts, only to be sent back out again as Welch goes rippling and thoughtful with a few screams and sputters. The cheeriest thing here is aptly titled Menagerie; they follow that with a somber piece simply titled Singing Bowl that builds to a dirge, then to absolute terror, the sax screaming into the abyss for help. The final cut, Architect revisits the Friend or Foe theme, juxtaposing morbid, stately rhythm against more of Welch’s anguished sax, finally winding down with an elegant, simple drum outro straight out of Joy Division. You like intense? Check out this album. It’s out now on adventurous Seattle label Table and Chairs Music.

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July 29, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment