Lucid Culture


Good Times with Michael Vlatkovich’s Tryyo

Trombonist Michael Vlatkovich has an entertaining new live album, Pershing Woman, out with his “Tryyo,” Jonathan Golove on electric cello and Damon Short on drums. For jazz improvisation, it’s exceptionally tuneful, and funky, and fun, in an energetic post-AACM, Roscoe Mitchell way. Good humor and good times abound throughout this set, and it’s contagious. It’s all about interplay: conversations, pitch-and-follow, shadowing and dynamics. Vlatkovich’s sensibility is borne out in his titles: for example, the jaunty, swinging opening track, Our Costumes Should Tell Us Who We Are and What We Think. Obviously, this could be sarcastic…or is he saying that what we wear should illustrate who we are, and inspire us to ponder certain things?

The second track, Pursued By More Past Than Future picks up the funky riffage and continues a series of variations, Golove alternating between resonant pizzicato basslines, sostenuto ambience, the occasional keening overtone or staccato flurry as Short shuffles and romps around the perimeter. His cymbal work throughout the album, whether creating nebulous, misty atmospherics or lithely accenting the quieter moments, is especially choice. Vlatkovich is the good cop here, playfully nudging the group upwards out of the lulls, firing off clusters of bluesy riffage, often adding a droll edge with a mute, or a quote, or the occasional woozy slidestep.

The best track here is Black Triangles Yellow Corn and Pink Medicine Drops – chips and salsa requiring a hit of Pepto Bismol afterward, maybe? Golove opens it with a catchy funk bassline, Vlatkovich exploring tersely overhead, Short artfully building to a crescendo that he caps off with a triumphant flourish as they take it doublespeed and then back down again.

The bouncy, syncopated Once in a Blue Moon a Decent Wolf Comes Along rides an unexpected Powerglide shift from Short into Hostages of Romance and its steady staccato. The Imponderable Hiding in Extra Large Clothing goes on for almost thirteen minutes and as expected, finally develops some menace as Golove goes up the scale with tritones – but after a point there’s nowhere to go but into comedic territory on the wings of Vlatkovich’s smirking, muted squonks. There are also a couple of warped ballads here with vividly pensive, lyrical harmonies between trombone and cello, the weirdly edgy funk of Neighborhood Beasts Let Down Their Hair and the closing track, I Let My Magic Tortoise Go, where Vlatkovich draws a quick sketch of the reptile leaping over the garden gate with a grin, dancing across the lawn, so glad to be out in the sunlight again.

December 22, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Idea-Packed Big Band Improvisation from Michael Vlatkovich’s Ensemblio

Trombonist Michael Vlatkovich’s Ensemblio has an intriguingly original album, Autobiography of a Pronoun, out now: the concept is improvisational big band jazz. This isn’t the waves of tunefulness followed by controlled chaos that Butch Morris champions, nor is it slowly shifting Greg Tate-style long-tone improvisation. What fuels this is a good sense of humor and artful orchestration: there are times when the whole ten-piece ensemble is cooking, but more often than not it’s a series of subgroups exploring a particular idea, so when the entire band gets in on it, the upward dynamics pack more of a punch. Most of this music is defiantly atonal, alluding to but seldom hitting a catchy hook head-on, the sixth track’s hypnotically syncopated Ethiopiques being the most memorable melody here in the conventional sense of the word. The presence of both Harry Scorzo’s violin and Jonathan Golove’s cello along with Anders Swanson’s frequently bowed bass add sonics that range from austere to occasionally lush and sweeping. It pretty much goes without saying that those who need a catchy tune to sing along to, or a steady beat to follow, will need to look elsewhere. But for jazz fans with an ear for the unconventional, this can be as much fun as it obviously was for the band to record.

Sample song title: Leg Belly Neon Kill Climb Unaware Pride, the ten-minute opening track. Surrealism reigns, from the pensive third-stream string ensemble introduction, a clave theme with vivid murky/airy contrasts between violin and ambience behind it, wry microtonalisms from Vlatkovich and a tasty Twin Peaks-ian interlude with legato piano leading spacious bass accents. It ends on an ominously agitated note.

The second track is more overtly improvisational, like early ELO on acid, anchored by drummer Michael Burdon’s funky shuffle, with tense strings-versus-horns contrasts, a free interlude that weaves from comedic to apprehensive and a lively, dancing bass solo out. Like the first cut, it has a persistent sense of unease. A three-part suite titled JMZ follows: its first section a rather chilling, twilit conversation between the bass and Wayne Peet’s piano, the second a blues ballad in heavy disguise contrasting rumbling, tumbling rhythms with terse piano and trombone motifs and the final an unexpectedly comic, increasingly rhythmic interlude led by William Roper’s tuba.

A jaggedly swinging large-ensemble piece, the wry Explain Why I Can’t Drive Faster Than the Car in Front of Me builds tension right from the big, lush opening chart, through a jarringly dissonant trombone/violin passage, to Peet’s piano going agitatedly off the edge into biting bop. Brian Walsh’s clarinet holds the funky Queen Dynamo together as the violin swirls and dips acidically before passing off to Jeff Kaiser’s muted trumpet and the trombone. The final piece, Memories Hold My Hand, is a sad, stately, Russian-flavored baroque requiem driven by somber tuba/trombone harmonies over flickering percussion. Those are just the highlights: other elements that are no less interesting emerge with repeated listening. Kick back with this if you’re up for getting swept into what can be an intense, inspiring, entertaining ride.

March 12, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment