Jazz-rock is nothing new, having been around for close to five decades, shaped by artists such as Miles Davis, The Soft Machine and Frank Zappa, so to keep things interesting in this realm, it’s essential for musicians to develop fascinating aural personalities rather than dwell on the notion of jazz fusion being at all novel in the year 2015.
The Brooklyn instrumental trio Hypercolor understands this, expressing vivid characters in the jazz-rock framework, where the ferocity and throb of rock music is allowed to expand and breathe past head melodies through exploratory jazz-influenced sections.
The group’s debut, self-titled album is notably on composer/saxophonist John Zorn’s Tzadik label, which itself is known for boundary-pushing jazz, with variations incorporating thrash, klezmer, metal and many other genres; what often isn’t stressed enough is the huge value placed on carefully selecting musicians for particular settings, not only for composed pieces but also improvisational situations. Hypercolor squarely fits in with this view, with a distinctive push-and-pull between the drums and guitar, heard prominently on the track “Chen.”
Guitarist Eyal Maoz has created his own unique voice, like other mavericks including Elliott Sharp or Arto Lindsay, with a deliberate playing style that follows its own internal sense of momentum, in spirit perhaps like the simultaneously determined and nonchalant sway of Thelonious Monk; this is most evident on “Ernesto, Do You Have a Cotton Box?” with bassist James Ilgenfritz and drummer Lukas Ligeti (son of composer György Ligeti) providing a prickly nest for Maoz.
Generally, Ilgenfritz doesn’t get many opportunities to be wild and free, supplying the backbone for Maoz, who can become increasingly unhinged like on the opener “Squeaks,” going beyond the crunchy, 4-chord rock structure, and sparingly uses effects to warp his note-stream. Ligeti’s drumming flurry is a perfect complement, prodding Maoz in productive ways with a bustle that seemingly can only be produced by a multi-armed deity.
Between the swift currents (“Palace”), nuanced melodic balladry (“Forget”) and vague horseback wanderings (“Quixotic”), Hypercolor’s debut reveals numerous facets of its members’ personalities.
David Greenberger & The Pahltone Scooters
Fractions by Stella
Since 1979, David Greenberger has been interviewing senior citizens and collecting their stories—mostly humorous yet sometimes touching—for his ’zine Duplex Planet, which has grown into a remarkable amorphous entity, encompassing radio commentaries for NPR, collaborations with comic artists, concerts and theatrical presentations and CDs with a wide variety of musical conspirators.
One intriguing thing about the project, when viewed as a whole, is how each story is transformed; a story isn’t simply a story—it’s a building block used by Greenberger as his own artistic medium. There’s always a method to his presentation, with careful arrangements with themes and arcs in mind, and on his CDs, although he varies his tone and delivery for his recitations, he’s telling other people’s stories with his own voice, eschewing Rich Little-style impersonations.
Greenberger’s latest release, Fractions by Stella, is one of his finest, and it was recorded twenty years ago in collaboration with Michigan multi-instrumentalist Frank Pahl, with a huge pool of talent assembled by Pahl, named here “The Pahltone Scooters,” including Pahl’s bandmates in the groups Only a Mother and Immigrant Suns and free-improv guitarist Davey Williams.
So, what do old people like to talk about? Going from this selection of stories: food, ailments and Frankenstein’s monster. The tense “Heartburn and Heart Attack” features an out-of-breath Greenberger accompanied by Marko Novachcoff supplying animalistic “horn breathing,” and it’s followed by “32 Causes of Headaches” with a flock of duck calls and horns.
“Saddle Kate, She Cried” is more of a story than personal anecdote, and it fittingly gets a rich western soundtrack, with oddly endearing percussion including marimba and clip-clop horseshoe sounds. With Eugene Chadbourne’s frantic bluegrass, “Pone” relates a competitive eating pioneer who, in 1937, voraciously devoured bananas, beer and 36 meatballs but experienced—in a competitive eating jargon—a messy reversal of fortune, and possibly the album’s strangest and most amusing track is “No Fear for People,” an absolutely bizarre, nearly nonsensical retelling of Frankenstein.
Fractions by Stella was previously released in 1999 as I Still Feel Like Myself in a small, limited edition, but now with a wider release, it hasn’t become any less vibrant and fresh in 20 years, with bright arrangements that take adventurous sounds and playfully create evocative textures to keenly complement the imaginative stories.