(All Album Reviews by Burgess Penguin)
Gregg Bendian, vibraphone/glockenspiel/composer
Nels Cline, guitar/steel guitar/devices
Alex Cline, drums/gongs
Joel Hamilton, upright bass
NOT your average tribute album by a long shot. In fact, it's not even paying tribute to a band or musician or style of music, but rather, to a brilliant graphic designer/comic artist by the name of Jack Kirby, (most noted for his work with Marvel Comics for many years), and the time that the composer grew up in (the 1960's).
But the depth of Gregg Bendian's intention doesn't stop there, it's also, in a sense, a loving remembrance of his youth growing up with Marvel Comics and Jack Kirby's distinctive visual style as part of a greater mental/emotional landscape. Drawing on post-bop and avant-garde jazz reference points like Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and Eric Dolphy, Bendian sets up a hazy and mysterious yet taut and sometimes chaotic world for the listener, very much reflecting the time he grew up in, the 1960's.
"Kirby's Fourth World" kicks things off with a very Thelonious Monk-like melodic structure (reminiscent of "Straight No Chaser" to be more specific) yet in no time goes somewhere a bit different with it. Guitarist Nels Cline creates subtly unsettling sonic atmospheres in the intro before the main theme comes in on the vibes in unison with guitar. The mystery this song conveys is quite vivid.
Things get even more complex and mysterious with "New Gods" and the strident almost martial theme of "The Mother Box". "Teaneck In The Marvel Age" alternates melodious atmospheres with screaming chaos (courtesy of Nels Cline's guitar palette, almost like an electrified Coltrane or Eric Dolphy emitting a primal cry). In many of these pieces, Nels alternates between a clean almost arch top-like guitar tone typical of the 60's to chaotic screeches, squalls and sometimes melodiously overdriven haunting guitar lines. "Teaneck in many ways recalls th time that Bendian grew up in and how reading those classic Marvel Comics fueled his budding imagination.
All throughout, in addition to Nels Cline's unpredictable guitar manipulations, his brother, drummer Alex Cline pushes things along with a lot of attention to texture and detail not only in his drumming but how he interacts with the other musicians. Joel Hamilton provides a ragingly solid anchor for the other musicians while adding some great low-frequency counterpoint of his own. And of course, Gregg Bendian's hazy vibes and far-reaching ideas and ability to conjure up vivid images on a jazz canvas are remarkable to put it mildly. Tracks like the ever shifting "Primordial Ink" and the frantic "Other Skylines" bear out a fevered imagination that's willing to go far beyond the safe, predictable world of rather generic tribute albums. What Gregg Bendian's done here is created nothing short of a masterpiece that looks forward and back at the same time. And to cap this package off, how could you NOT love the prime example of Jack Kirby's distinct artwork on the cover? Highly recommended.