Monday, January 07, 2013

CD Reviews: The Whammies and Jeb Bishop/Jorrit Dykstra

The Whammies
Play the Music of Steve Lacy
Next to Paul Motian, Steve Lacy might be the one instrumentalist who is starting to be saluted for his compositions, posthumously. The quartet Ideal Bread is devoted to the late soprano saxophonist's work, and now come the Whammies, a wild sextet of musicians hailing from Amsterdam, Chicago and Boston. The most famous name on this disc is that of drummer Han Bennink, who played with Lacy in the 1980s. But the group is the vision of Driff Records founders Jorrit Dijkstra (alto saxophone) and Pandelis Karayorgis (piano),who are based now in the Boston area. Joining them are Chicagoans Nate McBride (bass) and Jeb Bishop (trombone) and, for four tracks, Bennink's Instant Composer's Pool associate Mary Oliver (violin, viola).
The group pays attention to details of the compositions, some having more apparent structures while others come across more like sketches to toss off before jumping into the fire. Each title is accompanied by a dedication, something Lacy didn't always indicate on the original releases, but which Dijkstra unearthed while researching the composer. They offer some insight into the work too, explaining the loose movement of "The Wire," dedicated to Albert Ayler, and giving a hint about the work of Dutch painter Piet Mondrian in the Monk-like shuffle of "As Usual," in which Oliver plays in the upper register of her instrument while Dijkstra joins her on lyricon, an antiquated wind synthisizer which sounds more like static-y noise. "Ducks," dedicated to Ben Webster, could go either way, evoking the title more than its honoree (unless personality is considered, perhaps). Regardless, it's a fun romp. In "I Feel a Draft" the horns repeat a simple two-note melody while the rest of the band jumps around, Oliver getting close to nails on the chalkboard again. It's hard to believe that this tune was dedicated to Lacy's close friend and longtime collaborator Mal Waldron.
But the group settles down and swings too. "Bone" and "Dutch Masters" reveal some unique scoops and turns to Lacy's writing, reminding us that it might be time to dig into his voluminous catalog of work. Bennink might be known for his wild approach to his drums, which is often as visually wild as it is musically, but these two tracks remind us that he's also an excellent timekeeper who can light a fire under soloists with his carefully placed accents. Karayorgis plays some spiky tri-tone accompaniment behind the soloists in "Bone." It too feels much like Monk, which makes sense since Lacy was one of the legend's biggest advocates. It should also be no surprise that the Whammies end with a Monk tune that's not often heard, "Locomotive," a riff tune which he recorded for Prestige and Columbia. McBride takes the first solo - plucking with more frenzy than this song ever heard from someone like John Ore - before Dijkstra's cool understatement takes over, He begins his own way but remembers Monk's style reincorporating the theme into the solo. Karayoris has the same idea and the album ends triumphantly.
According to this album's press release, the Whammies are scheduled to tour the Northeast this month. I could really use a dose of live music like this in person.

Jeb Bishop/ Jorrit Dijkstra
1000 Words
Before they recorded with the Whammies, Bishop and Dijkstra met up for a series of trombone and alto duets in Chicago, where the former has played with umpteen bands under his own name and that of people like Ken Vandermark. Anyone expecting a series of pointillist free improvs that feature a lot of "extended technique" won't be disappointed - but they won't hear it right away either. 1000 Words features tone poems, counterpoints and near-ballads as much as the wild stuff. So it's not your average avant garde duo session.
The arrangement of the title track makes them actually sound like more than two horns since they play at opposite ends of their range at first. "Bone Narrow" throws you off balance with a call-and-response melody which keeps shifting between who starts the phrase.
In light of both these albums, Dijkstra is becoming a saxophonist to watch, thanks to a bell-like tone and an inventive mind. But he ups the ante with his playing here, slap-tonguing so sharply that he sounds like closed snare drum adding accents ("Klopgeest") before he starts into some Braxton brittleness. Bishop also shines, especially with his artillery of mutes. He opens "Standpipe" sounding like a free fretless bass guitar and even when this tune sounds rather monstruous, the changes played underneath it sound a bit sweet.
The first paragraph's statement about free improv wasn't meant to knock it. But some albums of it that sound great on the first listen don't always hold up under, or motivate, repeated listens. Bishop and Dijkstra have a lot of variety to this set, in all but one track keeping things under six minutes. So 1000 Words  has a lot to bring people back.
The Driff imprint is off to a strong start.

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