Thursday, November 24, 2011

CD Review: The Four Bags - Forth

The Four Bags
(NCM East)

For a band whose instrumentation consists of trombone, clarinet/bass clarinet, guitar and accordion, the Four Bags sound extremely percussive as they start their album in "Wayne Shorter's Tune With All Different Notes." Michael McGinnis slap tongues a beat on his clarinet briefly during the theme to reinforce the tempo but everyone is blowing with such focus that the extra click acts like a nice addition instead of a click track. The piece is tightly arranged with everything in the pocket, so it's designed to groove.

Still, flying without the net sounds pretty impressive. McGinnis and trombonist Brian Drye solo in tandem first, with Drusky sounding especially inventive and light on his feet. Then guitarist Sean Moran and accordionist Jacob Garchik get their chance for parallel solos. The latter gets some great wheezes and backwards sounding notes out of his instrument while Moran wraps up a challenging solo with some pedal effects that turn his axe into a ring modulator.

And that's only the first track. Each member of the group composes, and they also cover electronic duo Air, and compositions by Brazilian and Persian performers. All of the New York-based Bags are active with a number of projects. Drye also leads Bizingas (reviewed here back in January 2011). Garchik has written for the Kronos Quartet and Slavic Soul Party. Moran has done everything from metal to accompanying vocalist Rene Marie. McGinnis has performed in Fela! On Broadway and Anthony Braxton's Trillium E Orchestra.

With all that diversity feeding into their music, the Four Bags change moods rapidly while maintain focus and that continuing knack for tight arrangements that makes their sound expansive. "Run" their Air cover, actually evokes Radiohead to these ears, since Drye's muted trombone evokes the whine in Thom Yorke's voice. McGinnis switches to bass clarinet for "Pope Joy," Moran's death metal spotlight where he switches to baritone guitar which again uses some sound-melting effects. One track later, Drye is demonstrating some lush long tones on trombone in "Comfort Toon," a ballad with some nice Bacharach chords at its center.

"Girias Do Norte," a forro (Northeastern Brazillian dance), is based on a bright folk melody and features the Bags skillfully working with counterpoint over a vamp. In another nod towards smart album programming, they follow that with "The Burning," a slow, pensive Persian composition that gets some Western spice from Moran's dramatic strumming.

Together since 1999, the Four Bags have released two albums prior to Forth. (Yes, they're funny too, as if the song titles and the anagrams on the front cover didn't make it clear.) The time has given them the chance to develop a rather unique style that keeps this album exciting from beginning to end. Hopefully they'll get some Year End list recognition. And maybe I'll try to hunt down the rest of their catalog.

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