Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Charlie Kohlhase’s Explorer’s Club – Adventures

Rigorously cerebral yet imbued with a clever, carefree humor, this is an album that adventurous jazz fans will find as entertaining as it is cutting-edge. Recorded in 2007, it’s been out for awhile but since it just came over the transom here (thanks guys!) it made sense to give it a spin and, voila, it struck a nerve. Like his mentor Roswell Rudd, saxophonist Charlie Kohlhase pushes the envelope. The septet’s main shtick is that they have two drummers, Miki Matsuki and Chris Punis (whose mightily intelligent, straightforward playing anchors Gypsy Schaeffer’s excellent new cd, just reviewed here). Here, drums as often as not serve as a tonal rather than a rhythmic instrument, rhythm being passed around between Kohlhase’s and Matt Langley’s saxes, Jeff Galindo’s trombone, Eric Hofbauer’s guitar or to Jef Charland’s tastefully tuneful, understated bass. This is a concept album of sorts, playfully riffing on several comic book superhero themes. Superhero Beatdown starts out with starkly strummed guitar and multiple horn conversations, building up to the point where total bedlam ensues: the hero in question no doubt ends up in the emergency room. Then there’s Utensor, out to save the world with ovesize kitchen implements, moving from a satirical opening to a dialogue between logical bass and peeved tenor, the rest of the band eventually joining the argument as the drums rumble ominously underneath: could that be someone doing the dishes?

 

The Alarm Clock Is My Only Kryptonite will resonate wryly with anyone dreading the dawn of a workday, the pain of waking up vividly illustrated in five alternately tortuous and amusing minutes, trombone taking a completely ridiculous, laugh-out-loud funny muted solo over the band’s woozy atmospherics. The amusingly titled Thryllkyll on the Schuyllkyll kicks off with a faux detective theme, baritone sax climbing to a repetitive, Coltrane-esque riff eventually passed to the guitar while the band encircles it ever more tightly. There are also a couple of John Tchicai compositions written specifically for a two-drummer ensemble, the first a diverse exercise in call-and-response dialogues, the second featuring some mighty, somewhat martial ensemble work from the two drummers. The two most accessible cuts here are a tongue-in-cheek stab at a ballad by Charland and the strikingly straightforward James Brown homage that winds up the album. If you’re interested in where jazz is going, or where it’s going to be in ten years, this is for you, as well as for more mainstream listeners looking to broaden their sonic horizons. Don’t let the phrase “post-bop” scare you away – this stuff is fun. All the players here maintain active live schedules, watch this space for New York dates.

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April 12, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Gypsy Schaeffer – New Album

These guys are funny: Boston quartet Gypsy Schaeffer’s website bills them as “traditional straight ahead free jazz,” wisely giving themselves license to get away with pretty much anything they want. True to its title, this is a new album, but they could have called it “good album” or even “excellent album” and they wouldn’t be overstating it. Be aware that there’s nothing remotely gypsy about this band. Trombonist/bandleader Joel Yennior is a known commodity for his innovative work with Either/Orchestra; saxist Andy Voelker leads the aptly titled Wild Sextet, the house band at popular Boston-area hotspot Matt Murphy’s Pub in Brookline. Bassist Jef Charland and drummer/author Chris Punis make a rhythm section that just jumps out at you, Charland’s strikingly melodic, terse sensibility a good match for the alternately straight-ahead and colorful stylings of Punis, riding the traps and keeping the group’s adventurous excursions from going completely off the rails. Notwithstanding all their free jazz associations, this is an often stunningly melodic album. To the band’s further credit, it’s often utterly impossible to differentiate between composition and improvisation here: the jams sound composed, and even the catchiest passages tend to fly off the page in a split-second. It’s a brightly convivial, smartly cheery ride.

 

The cd’s opening cut builds off a characteristically simple, catchy, upbeat hook over Punis’ boogie-inflected beat, everything eventually flying apart and then coming together again. The second track, Live a Little is a showcase for chemistry and how well the band listen to each other, the rhythm stepping along but not gingerly as the horns go separate but equal to a sudden, quick, catchy chorus. Yennior gets confident and bluesy, then Voelker takes it further outside as Charland fans the flames with chords, Yennior bringing it back to the head while Voelker defiantly stands upwind and continues his diatribe.

 

The wonderfully titled Grape Soda and Pretzels, a Charland composition, testifies to one of the great snack combinations with a Penny Lane feel, bass soloing deftly and minimalistically off the melody, Yennior using all of his available range, almost like a trumpeter, as is his custom. Like many of the pieces here, this one segues into the next track with slowly pacing bass and drum accents, trombone, then pensive sax and suddenly the rhythm section goes on a roll. And now they’re in the next tune, Welcome Edison, warmly exploratory over balmy sax as Punis colors it and Charland anchors it with a pretty hook. There’s another segue, into Double Quartet with some strangely muted work from Yennior, a fanfare and echoes from Voelker.

 

The catchiness returns on the swing tune Shark Tank, boisterous trombone offering hints of the blues, contrasting nicely with a minimalist Charland solo and innumerable false endings as Punis thrashes around on the ground – and finally a gorgeous horn chart out of it. It’s unclear if the next track, Exuberant Irrationalism is a political statement, but it could be, a foghorn call on the trombone to open it, bass swinging purposeful and halfspeed over a shuffle beat, scurrying along to where Voelker goes off again and Yennior responds with insistent quarter notes, pulling it all back together. After a couple more segues into contemplative, conversational rubato-land, the cd wraps up with Identity Crisis, sax squeaking playful but ever-present in the background,Yennior carrying the melody over swinging bass while Punis alternates between clearing brush and standing back watching everybody to see how much they’ve been goofing off while he’s been working hard. If you’ve made it this far, you now know much fun this band has and hopefully have a picture of how much more interesting it would actually be to put this on the ipod and give it a listen.

 

Gypsy Schaeffer are more than generous with their music, offering all sorts of free bonus tracks at their site. With all the band members busy with other gigs, there’s nothing on their live calendar at the moment: watch this space for upcoming dates. Either/Orchestra plays Regattabar in Cambridge, MA on May 1.

April 7, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment