Lucid Culture


Tales from the Land of Lawson: Intriguing Rainy Day Improvisation

Earlier this year, enterprising Seattle label Table and Chairs put out an intriguingly hard-to-categorize rainy-day album titled Tales from the Land of Lawson. It’s suite of sorts, streaming at Bandcamp,  that begins with an eleven-minute tone poem with shifting, rising and falling sheets of sound from both horns and synthesizers and ends with a rather snide, thinly disguised cover of a Paul Williams song (yeah – that guy from the 70s, you know, Three Dog Night and Hollywood Squares if you go back that far). The band is a bunch of Bay Area improvisers led by alto saxophonist Jacob Zimmerman along with Michael Coleman, Dan VanHassel and Dan Good on synthesizers, Matt Ingalls on clarinets, Matt Nelson and Drew Ceccato on tenor sax, Gary Wright on baritone sax and Rob Ewing on trombone.

They follow the atmospheric introduction with Rain Shadow, a simple, moody electric piano melody fleshed out with a chamber arrangement that grows to a pulsing, loopy hook. The theme continues with a steady march, then builds to a scherzo with endless exchanges of voices from the reeds before finally reprising the march theme. Then they wind it down to the introductory theme, this time rising and falling, the austere march reaching toward a blustery coda and then ebbing again as the timbres and voices mingle kaleidoscopically and then recede: it’s absolutely entrancing. The understated sarcasm of the closing cut makes for a wry return to reality. The promo copy that arrived here is hand-lettered number 8 out of a modest pressing of a hundred: hopefully more are on the way or have already arrived, because for anyone who digs entertaining improvisation, this is worth a spin.

November 1, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Marcus Shelby’s Soul of the Movement: Best Album of the Year So Far?

Majestic, hard-hitting and intense, bassist/composer Marcus Shelby’s new civil rights-era themed big band album Soul of the Movement charges to the front of this year’s crop: it’s neck and neck for top billing with the Roulette Sisters’ new one right now. Shelby calls this a “meditation” on Martin Luther King, which makes sense in that the composer has obviously reflected deeply on King’s impact on his era, and vice versa. Shelby has strongly incorporated a Mingus influence, but also has an individual voice, vividly evoking struggle but also triumphant joy. The orchestra comprises Jeff Marrs on drums; Gabe Eaton and Marcus Stephens on alto sax; Sheldon Brown and Evan Francis on tenor; Fil Lorenz on baritone; Joel Behrman, Rob Ewing and Mike Rinta on trombones; Louis Fasman, Scott Englebright, Mike Olmos, Darren Johnston and Mark Wright on trumpets; Adam Shulman and Sista Kee on piano; Matt Clark on B3 organ and Shelby himself conducting from the bass. Contralto Faye Carol and Kenny Washington deliver passionate gospel vocals on a handful of songs as well.

They turn the gospel standard There Is a Balm in Gilead into a brief, balmy overture with vocalese and then launch into another gospel standard, Amen, ablaze with brass and call-and-response vocals. The first of Shelby’s compositions, Emmett Till, offers unexpected sweltery summer ambience in place of the expected dirge. It’s a feast of strong motifs, a tribute to the man rather than an attempt to evoke his martyrdom, imaginatively propelled and embellished by Marrs’ drums. Black Cab, a boisterous swing blues number sung by Carol, pays tribute to the car pools who drove Montgomery residents around during the 1956-57 Montgomery bus boycott, lit up by a tremendously affecting alto solo from Eaton. A cover of the Mingus classic Fables of Faubus is every bit as defiantly exhilarating as it could be, the band absolutely nailing that dark latin groove that emerges toward the end. Trouble on the Bus continues in a gorgeously brooding vein, building uneasily from Shelby’s ominous series of bass chords and taking flight on the wings of the alto sax.

The epic Birmingham (Project C) potently evokes the 1963 Birmingham marches and clashes with the police: it’s the strongest and most cinematic track here among many strong ones. Shifting from pulse-quickening suspense to frenetic chase scenes, it evokes the same kind of horror that Shostakovich portrayed in his numerous requiems for the victims of Stalin’s terror. The two-part Memphis (I Am a Man) illustrates King’s final act before his murder, in support of striking Memphis sanitation workers. Noirish atmosphere rising over a tense latin beat, Howard Wiley’s soprano sax struggles against its constrictions throughout a long, white-knuckle-intense solo; the second part bustles with ominous Mingus echoes and ends unresolved. The rest of the album includes the rousing organ riffage of the gospel funk song We’re a Winner, an inspired swing jazz version of Go Tell It on the Mountain and a tersely torchy, stripped-down version of Precious Lord, Take My Hand to close on an aptly contemplative note. For maximum impact, you may want to separate out the upbeat gospel-flavored tracks from the stormy big band stuff when uploading to your ipod. It’s out now on Porto Franco Records.

January 27, 2011 Posted by | gospel music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment