Tuesday, February 11, 2020

CD Review: The Westerlies - Wherein Lies the Good

The Westerlies
Wherein Lies the Good
(Westerlies) www.westerliesmusic.com

The Mamas and the Papas used to say that when they harmonized together, their overtones added a fifth voice to their sound. That same sort of harmonic reaction seems to happen at various spots during Wherein Lies the Good, the third album by the brass quartet the Westerlies. The rich sound feels like the result of more than just two trumpets and two trombones. It doesn't feel the group overdubbed extra tracks either. Sections where it seems like flutes are creeping in the background is built on another technique where they let air escape from the sides of their mouths while playing (a process which is called "fluting"). The music just expands with sound, in a delightful, ear-tugging manner.

The Westerlies - Riley Mulherkar and newest member Chloe Rowlands on trumpet, Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch on trombones - reside at the corner of chamber group and jazz. They play composed pieces and, although improvisation might not be a major part of their work, they nevertheless depend on personal approaches to the instruments to bring their scores to life. On top of that, the four of them  can move like a single unit, as needed. The best example of that comes in "Golden Gate Gospel Train" where they create a singular wail of joy, building up to it and popping the cork with jaw-dropping precision.

That particular track introduces a five-song suite of gospel songs originally performed by the Golden Gate Quartet, a vocal group from the 1930s. All but one of the tunes lasts under two minutes, and while the melodies are built on bright, cheery lines, the Westerlies give them depth. This suite appears after another extended piece, the title track which was written by pianist Robin Holcomb, a long-time supporter of the group since their young days in Seattle. Consisting of 11 movements, "Wherein Lies the Good" includes quick fanfares, warm trombone melodies and moments where the group sounds like they're inhaling and exhaling as one, creating some effective dissonance as they go.

Along with other interpretations that speak volumes about the band's scope - two by Charles Ives, one by obscure singer-songwriter Judee Sill, one by avant pop singer Arthur Russell which they punctuate with dirty growls - each of the Westerlies contribute originals. Clausen's "Robert Henry," inspired by his nephew, features a minimal trumpet below the melody that eventually gives way to a slow section where a whine edges up before returning to the first part. Rowlands' "Laurie" expresses love for the late trumpeter and teacher Laurie Frink. De Koch's "Chickendog and Woodylocks" playfully recreates a childhood story from his grandmother and Mulkerhar's three-part "Entropy" closes the album with power.

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