Friday, October 28, 2016

CD Review: Hearts & Minds

Hearts & Minds
(Astral Spirits/Monofonus Press)

Behind some basic packaging - two-sided, non-gatefold cover card, the list of tracks on the back, personnel but no songwriting credits - lurks a strong debut from a trio of guys who have been around the block, but never on record in a setting like this. Jason Stein (bass clarinet), Paul Giallorenzo (synthesizer, E Planet) and Frank Rosaly (drums, electronics) have all been part of the Chicago experimental scene for quite awhile. Together, they can get noisy, swing and evoke film noir all within a short space of time. They can also pull the musical rug out from under and stop when right when they set a mood.

Giallorenzo's synthesizer often sounds like an electric piano, setting up bass lines and some dreamy chords to accompany Stein's curious melodies that inspires the bass clarinet to simulate feedback at one point ("The Western Situation"). Sometimes the band starts off blowing free skronk, only to gradually allow a groove to take shape ("Old Balance"). Just as they settle into "The Western Situation," things end abruptly like the tape ran out or someone accidentally hit the pause button.

Sometimes their racket has some structure to it, like "Stocky," which is built on a series of atonal blasts. Later in "An Unfortunate Lack of Role Models" Stein and Rosaly pop in and out with staccato bursts while Giallorenzo noodles in the background like Sun Ra. For contrast, "Models" follows it, sounding like a completely different band, playing spy soundtrack music, with the keyboard doubling as bass and Rhodes. If Matt Bauder's trio Hearing Things is the jazz group to play surf music, Hearts & Minds should be re-scoring episodes of Peter Gunn or Johnny Staccato.

Stein is a rarity in the bass clarinet is his sole instrument, rather than one he alternates with another reed. His devotion results in one of the most vibrant voices on the low reed, with voice-like explosions and rasps that can suddenly turn sweet a moment later. (If you haven't heard his Locksmith Isidore trio, they have been opening for comedian Amy Schumer, who just happens to be Stein's sister. Follow that band.) Rosaly continues to be one of the more ingenious players on the Chicago scene, always creating excitement as he crashes freely, sets tempi and adds his own electronic sounds to the scene.

The trio's self-titled disc is broken up into Side One and Side Two on the back cover listing, and in keeping with the vinyl feeling, all nine tracks could fill both sides of a platter.

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