Saturday, January 29, 2011

CD Review - Bizingas


As far as instrumentation is concerned, anything goes with jazz groups these days. No bass? No problem. Cecil Taylor proved that the bottom end wasn't mandatory in free music almost half a century ago. Groups like the Chicago Underground Duo - who make it work with just a trumpet and drum kit, plus some electronics - are fairly standard, or at least not unexpected. The music of groups like this doesn't lack anything in its simplicity, it opens things up to new opportunities.

Having said that, it feels like something is missing in "Tagger," which opens the self-titled album by the Brooklyn-based quartet Bizingas. Guitarist Jonathan Goldberger and drummer Ches Smith lay down a 5/8 groove, which sounds as much like a rock riff as a jazz vamp. Brian Drye and Kirk Knuffke join in on trombone and cornet, respectively. It's a catchy three-minute tune, no doubt with room for a little blowing in the middle. But it feels like it could use something on the bottom end to fill out the sound and drive it home.

This is not to say that the guys in Bizingas need help. In fact they all come with some strong credentials. Drye, who leads the group and wrote all 10 tracks, has worked with everyone from the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and bassist Mark Helias. He also doubles on piano. Smith's name showed up on this blog a few months ago with his excellent release with These Arches; he also has played metal and post-rock. Knuffke, also a man about town, is a member of Ideal Bread, a band devoted to Steve Lacy's compositions, to name but one project. Goldberger also has rock roots, as well as experience with drummer Jim Black and guitarist James "Blood" Ulmer.

So really, the issue here is getting used to the open spot in the arrangements, really. My notes for "Guilty" - where the horns play some fast lines over the drums, before Goldberger starts comping - reads, "Needs something."

The same can be said for a few other songs, yet at the same time, Drye has come up with some thought provoking compositions that expand the shape of the group with nearly every tune. They hadn't intended to record the subdued "TMT," but it gives the album its first thoughtful digression, three songs in; the piano and Knuffke's horn engage in a good conversation. "Sifting," a ballad dedicated to Duke Ellington, has multiple sections and the quartet's minimalism works to a good advantage. "Stretched Thin" begins rubato with a repeated figure played by the trombone, that is later played more rapidly by a programmed keyboard. Smith steps away from the kit to play glockenspiel too. The minor, somewhat pensive "Farmer" is a composition with no improvisation that recalls Andrew Hill's early work.

Closing the album, "Untitled Moog Anthem" is deceptive in that it's not exactly anthemic, nor is it especially moog-like. The titular keyboard does however pump out a pedal point bassline that keeps a groove going with Smith, and it kisses off the album with an idea of what else might be possible down the line with them.

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