(All Album Reviews by Burgess Penguin)
Eric Barber: Clarinet
Ellen Burr: Flutes
Alex Cline: Drumset and Percussion
John Fumo: Trumpet and Flugelhorn
Jeff Gauthier: 4- and 5-String Electric Violins
Scot Ray: Trombone
Steuart Liebig: C, Eb and Bb Contrabassguitars and Compositions
Tom Varner: French Horn
Mark Dresser: Contrabass and Giffus
Vinny Golia: Sopranino Saxophone
Nels Cline: Electric Guitar
Well folks, if you came looking for easy, breezy pop-melodies, you came to the WRONG address, and I mean that as a compliment!
Instigated by Steuart Liebig, a considerably accomplished bassist AND composer of musics ranging from get down funk/rock to SERIOUSLY deranged modern-classical, this outing takes the approach somewhere between a mini-big band and avant-chamber group, with 4 pieces written for 4 specific soloists and their unique way of hearing music.
First up is "Widening Circles Reach Across the World" that somehow manages to juxtapose spiky avant-jazz with some at times light-hearted ensemble writing, while giving Tom Varner lots of exploring room for his French horn.
"The Motionless Blue of Fallen Skies" is upright bassist Mark Dresser's feature piece, allowing him the luxury of haunting bowed passages to furious sub-terranean rumbling. One especially has to marvel at his command of bowed overtones and harmonics, plus his quick-witted interaction with the other musicians, especially with drummer/percussionist Alex Cline and the different woodwinds. As with all the pieces on this disc, it's not always easy to tell where scoring ends and improvisation begins, but that's the mystery of this particular type of music that I enjoy. Steuart has done a masterful job of blurring the line between these two approaches quite beautifully. And scattered throughout, there are plenty of humorous moments where you least expect them
"Flare Up Like Flame and Create Dark Shadows" - This features multi-woodwind maestro Vinny Golia pushing the tinny and rarely used sopranino sax to its limits. From forlorn oboe-like melodies to frantic flights intertwining with the winds and brass, he never sits still for a moment as this pieces runs the gamut from somber chamber writing at times reminiscent of Univers Zero to edgy almost avant-crime jazz passages, it plays out like a well directed art film.
And finally, "The Darkness of Each Endless Fall" is one positively DERANGED outing in which guitarmeister Nels Cline gets to shine with his furious yet oddly haunting and melodic guitar pyrotechnics. Make no mistake, Nels has found his own unique voice, and what's more remarkable is how he can make that work in a variety of contexts, a testament to both Nels musicianship and Steuart's attention to detail and understanding of the musicians he writes for.
All throughout, even though the pieces are intended for 4 primary soloists, the various ensemble players get some time in the spotlight too, my favorites here are trumpeter John Fumo and drummer/one man percussion orchestra Alex Cline who contribute mightily to these pieces along with everyone else. Steuart sure knows how to pick his musicians!
Do you like your music genuinely challenging and actually PROGRESSIVE (as opposed to rehashing prog giants past), do you wonder what could happen if outré jazz and modern classical truly worked together as opposed to being antagonists forced into an uneasy coexistence (like so man so-called third stream outings)? Take a bite of Pommegranate if you dare!