I love the chain of events that can lead to discovering new music.
A few weeks ago NPR did a story about a trombonist named Jay Keyser. I’m not exactly sure what the story was about. I didn’t hear it. The story was discussed on the trombone-l mailing list, but I didn’t really read the discussions. Dave Gibson did, and he ended up in contact with Jay Keyser. Jay sent Dave a couple of CDs by the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra, which is one of the groups Jay plays with. Dave was telling me about these CDs, and the fact that they were nothing like what he expected. They were way farther out. That made my ears perk up. It also made me go to iTunes and buy an Aardvark Jazz Orchestra album. I chose a 1997 release called Psalms & Elegies.
One of the cools things about buying music on iTunes is that you have to deal with the music almost solely in terms of the music. There are no liner notes, no personnel list. No clue to the performers’ intentions other than the sounds they made. Listening on those terms is a great way to remove prejudice and preconception.
Throughout Psalms & Elegies the AJO makes great use of variations of space and color. It is a large ensemble, but they often pare down to small combinations and very effectively add and remove voices so the listener gets very organic transitions from spacious open sonic landscapes to densely intense ones. The large dense sections are also very powerful because of their comparative scarcity in relation to the more sonically spacious sections.
The various colors of the orchestra are also used successfully. Contrasts between brass and woodwind choirs, and the presence or absence of overt groove are common devices on this album. On the almost 30 minute “Psalms” the singer does very modern classical sounds and then later goes bluesy. There is wandering free stuff and fairly straight ahead swinging, and pointillistic squeak and squonk both with and without backbeat.
Even on the parts of the album that don’t have overt grooves being played, I find myself moving my body. There is a sense of pulse that moves throughout the music, even when it isn’t directly articulated. I think that is one of the things that draw me to this. I have a hunch that some of their other albums may be very different from this one. I’ll have to check a few out and confirm that hunch.