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

Twin Peaks Music from WA

Think of the opening bars of Nature Boy – but try not to imagine Nat Cole singing it. Just hum the tune to yourself. Creepy, isn’t it? What the Seattle-based quartet WA – as in Washington – have done on their new album, Cross the Center, out on the enterprising Table and Chairs label, is to improvise a series of variations on that riff. Alternating between morose and menacing, it’s hard to think of a more intense thirty minutes of music that’s been released this year. The whole thing is streaming at Bandcamp (something that all jazz labels should be doing, by the way).

It takes awhile to get going. Guitarists Simon Henneman and CJ Stout open it with an uneasy clang, then drummer Gregg Keplinger lopes and rumbles purposefully as Henneman fires off elephantine blasts of noise, eventually joined a little less exuberantly by Stout. After about ten minutes of this – they call it Funfun – Nature Boy is introduced and within seconds, Henneman begins judiciously reinventing it as terse noir theme. Using a dry tone with plenty of reverb and occasional wah, he moves it a little more outside with care and concern, eventually throwing off a couple of spiraling glissandos as the menace builds. The band eventually goes quiet and atmospheric, then brings the riff back and the menace along with it. Then they bring back the shifting sheets of sound filtering in and then out of the picture, Henneman’s matter-of-factness matched by Keplinger. The final variation, titled Carcassi, has both guitarists utilizing a cleaner, tremoloing tone, subsituting more of a chordal approach than the simple, subtly vibrato-tinged single-note lines that Henneman has been employing up to this point. The effect is absolutely chilling, and Lynchian (appropriate for a Twin Peaks-area band, huh?). There’s another band member, Sean Lane, credited with “bicycle and electronics” – sonically, it’s not clear where he fits into picture, whether percussionwise or otherwise.

By the way – this is apropos of nothing other than the possible origin of the song – if you think that the opening bars of Nature Boy have a gypsy quality, be aware that the opening lick is identical to the very beginning of Dvorak’s Second Piano Quintet.

July 7, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sympathy for the Devil?

Abdel Hamed Mowhoush fell for a lie, and it cost him his life: being a major general in the Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein in 2003 didn’t help. According to Human Rights First, Mowhoush’s four sons were taken prisoner by US forces. Assured that he and his children would be released if he turned himself in, Mowhoush did so. But rather than being let go, he was brutally tortured and subsequently murdered by an interrogator, Lewis Welshofer, who was courtmartialed and along with a few of his fellow soldiers, given a slap on the wrist for his role in the events. This killing raises all sorts of questions, from why the murder was committed – or sanctioned – in the first place, to whether or not such acts are ever justifiable. Seattle saxophonist Neil Welch addresses the incident with a chillingly and rather brilliantly orchestrated tone poem of sorts, Sleeper, out now on Seattle’s Table and Chairs Music.

Welch’s point of view here is clear. “May the darkest, most difficult moments of our lives be met with love instead of hate, compassion instead of rage,” reads the epigram on the album sleeve. As you would expect, this is a somber and intense piece of music, played sensitively but acerbically by Welch along with Ivan Arteaga on alto and soprano saxes, Jesse Canterbury on bass clarinet, Vincent LaBelle on trombone and David Balatero and Natalie Hall on cellos. It begins ambient and elegaic in the manner of a salute delivered by slowly shifting sheets of sound from which harmonies slowly begin to develop, as if in a flashback. Martial allusions bustle and reach anguished peaks, then recede: much of this has echoes of Stravinsky. Fullscale horror is kept under restraint here, to crushingly powerful effect. A menacing harangue, a possible good cop/bad cop interlude and furtively official-sounding scurrying eventually cede to atmospheric horror bleeding with microtones. When a more cohesive martial theme appears, it quickly takes on a cold blitheness. Figures dart around like extras shuffling around the set of an early black-and-white film. Ending on much the same note as it began, it makes a potent follow-up to Welch’s Bad Luck collaboration with drummer Chris Icasiano. That one rated in the top 25 jazz albums of the year here last year: this could easily do as well.

May 9, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment