Mar 17 2014
Most of the music featured on the Something Different review series situates itself far out on the fringes of Jazz, with only the barest strand of thread connecting it back to the nest. It never sounds like anything else. But there is music that is equally isolated in its vision, and yet so hauntingly identifiable that the requisite dissociation from anything-bop is neutralized, and the music simply hovers nearby, untranslatable as Jazz, yet entangled within its roots, creating a hybridization that is both alien and familiar.
The traditional folk musics and blues that inform much of Jazz, both past and present, shine brightly from the unconventional music of Dana Lyn. Her bizarre visualizations of the sounds of the soil are curious oddities and stunning displays of beauty. Her newest recording, Aqualude, is an example in point.
Your album personnel: Dana Lynn (violin, viola, angel door, music box), Mike McGinnis (clarinet, bass clarinet), Jonathan Goldberger (guitars), Clara Kennedy (cello), and Vinnie Sperrazza (drums).
An album with a chamber music aesthetic and a bit of rock ‘n roll in its DNA, this folk-jazz recording modulates sounds between swaying down-home dances, a ferocious grind and crunch, quirky conversational asides, and sweetly stated melodic glides.
The album brings the heat with opening song “Carping,” as Golberger’s electric burn trades volleys with McGinnis’s clarinet, giving a sense of the battle between light and dark. This leads, a bit incongruously, to “Mother Octopus,” a tune with a stately elegance, even when it displays kinetic affectations that challenge the music’s fluidity of motion.
But this isn’t to be entirely unexpected. Lyn is part of the collaboration Bach Reformed (along with guitarist Rob Moose), a project that takes the J.S. Bach Suites for Unaccompanied Cello and the Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Solo and remakes the raw materials as structures for duets. It is not your typical classical music recording, weaving together a back porch languor of folk music with the courtly grace of Baroque, and resulting in an album easy to engage while simultaneously curious in that way museum artifacts affect viewers with a crosshatch of contexts… a sense of existing in multiple moments and differing points of reference.
It’s a pleasant form of disconcertion, the kind where variables don’t necessarily come into focus and, instead, remain teasingly just out on the periphery of vision. It’s a sensation that leaves its mark all over Aqualude.
The avant-garde piece “Queequeg,” exudes the modern jazz approach of wedding post-bop jazz freedom with indie-rock poetic structure, leading to a song that drummer Sperrazza moves in a unified direction, even as it barely retains its shape and form. “Yeti Crab Theme Song” is the album’s masterstroke, assimilating all of its various influences and perspectives into one cohesive expression… and sounding both gorgeously melodic and rhythmically animated in doing so.
“Pyramids” opens with the moonlight beauty of violin and clarinet rising and falling in synch with an exquisite finesse, maintaining that state of grace even after guitar’s pronouncements alter the cadence into something sharper and hardened. When Kennedy enters on cello with a deep and urgent hum, the song’s disposition becomes one with a heavier atmosphere, eventually building up into a frenzied conclusion.
“The Snow is General” leads a dual life as avant-folk song and contemporary classical pastoral, planting its feet in one territory or the other, and switching between the two with an unpredictable frequency. There could be some parallels drawn between this song and the music & compositions of Threads Orchestra and Jonathan Brigg, another ensemble that defies any type of definitive categorization and inhabits territory all to its own.
And the branches of Lyn’s folk music expressions can be traced back to similar roots as her previous recording, The Hare Said a Prayer to the Rainbow and Followed the Fox Down the Hole, a forward-thinking presentation of traditional Irish music.
A duo collaboration with guitarist Kyle Sanna, the recording is grounded in the source of its inspiration, while affording itself plenty room for personalization by the artists, who, obviously, live in the present day and can’t help but feel the compulsion to create music in ways that reflect their own experiences in the light of Today.
Aqualude is just a more comprehensive fulfillment of this approach, encompassing a wider array of music influences and breathing them out with a panoramic display of evocative imagery.
Of imagery, there are three interludes spread throughout the album, each with an air of improvisation and an eerie underwater sonic quality. This isn’t accidental, as it is Lyn’s intention to tell a story of the sea with Aqualude, going so far as to create a wonderful Tumblr page that matches each album track with a Lyn narrative and an image from artist Olivia Brown, whose art is featured on the album.
Aqualude ends with the angelic harmonics of “Yeti Sleeps,” a song that floats peaceably downstream, gradually gaining speed but never dispensing with its soothing nature. The song trails off, ending with a return to the eerie underwater ambiance of the album’s interludes. And really, for an album comprised of songs of the sea, there’s no other way to go out.
A gorgeous and intriguing album, and one of those rare instances when a recording that sounds like nothing else has the possibility to appeal to just about everybody. Differentiation for the masses.
Released on Ropeadope Records.
Music from the Brooklyn scene.
The Something Different review series highlights albums that are unlike anything else, and which embrace the best qualities of creative vision.