Nov 21 2013
Inspired by the work of folklorist Alan Lomax… an archivist who documented American folk music found along its many trails and towns… drummer Deric Dickens sought to discover his own voicing of the songs that constitute a large part of the creative wellspring of this country, marking it like the rings of an hundred-year-old redwood.
Of the ten tracks that comprise Oh Lovely Appearance, four of the songs come directly from the Lomax collection, rearranged by Dickens to suit the session’s trio format. Of the remaining six tracks, they are cut from the same cloth as the archived tunes, and the trio wears them with the same sense of age and tradition.
The trio, going by the name of The Dickens Campaign, consists of Deric Dickens (drums), Kirk Knuffke (cornet), and Jesse Lewis (guitar). On this charming album of embraceable melodies and conversational rhythmic chatter, it is easy to overlook how seamlessly they coalesce as a unit. When measuring the quality of a unit’s teamwork in making the music come together, sometimes it’s viewed by way of the interplay between musicians and how conversant they are in their back-and-forth interactions. Other times, it’s a matter of direction and movement… do the musicians create patterns of sound and motion that elevate the music to a new plateau or is it just a sonic logjam of competing traits? And then, on an album like this, that teamwork is best measured in the way that each member’s individual sound fuses with the others, coming together in a way that no longer is it the three sounds of a trio, but one singular sound with three simultaneous voices. This particular form of interplay makes for a heady concoction, giving the music a presence both potent and dense with sonic qualities.
Interestingly, while the compositions Dickens chose to cover date far far back, it is easy to hear the reflection of those songs in the modern music of today. The back porch languor of saxophonist Jeremy Udden’s Plainville recordings echoes in the rendition of Hazel Hudson’s “As I Went Out For A Ramble,” a song with talkative drums, a cornet seeking to tell a story, and a guitar that wants to hum along to both. A cheerful song that sighs contentedly.
And then there’s the rendition of Henry Truvillion’s “Roustabout Holler,” a song with a confident gait and an itch to rock out a little bit. And when the trio indulges that particular impulse, they emit some Neil Young grind & twang, a sound that flashes teeth like steel but maintains a neighborly amicability that keeps things friendly between instrument and ear.
The Kirk Knuffke original “Poem” is not unlike the Americana Jazz sound of Bill Frisell, one of the true innovators in the jazz-folk music subgenre. The murmurs of notes, the comforting patter of drums, the lonely calls of cornet… like a nighttime forest scene, of sounds of unease drifting out from the darkness of the woods, as moonlight shines down on the fields and the stars twinkle and shine in an unblemished sky.
That tone and temper continues on the trio’s rendition of Mr. & Mrs. Boyd Hoskins’ “Oh Lovely Appearance of Death” and the Dickens original “I Should Have Known.” Whereas the former track adopts a melancholy disposition, the latter is declarative, like a suitor professing his love via song.
Most tracks keep things closer to the peaceable end of the spectrum, but a couple, like the Knuffke original “Twice My Heavy” bring a heat that could forge metal, and a lumbering gait that could stamp that metal into place. And the previously mentioned “I Should Have Known” develops into something louder, with Lewis’s electric guitar leading the way and rousing the trio to raise their voices high and heavy.
But for the most part, the songs range closer to the quieter side of town, exemplified best by the Dickens original “Paul Motian,” a tribute to the recently passed jazz great. It’s a song that accentuates the Motian approach of presence over form, finesse as its own show of strength. Knuffke, as he does throughout this fine album, instills a tranquility across the songs, letting notes soar with an almost casual nature, as if buffeted by the sounds of the other trio members as would a bird simply riding the currents of the breeze with a grand majesty.
But these are songs of the soil, not the air, and the trio’s rendition of William Walker’s “Hallelujah” has a tunefulness that speaks of old songs and the happy sense of comfort at being a part of that lineage, of becoming a part of the music timeline that connects us all. Music brings us all together. Art does that. Creativity. This is just one more example of the varied ways this connectedness may occur.
Just a real charming and likable album.
Released on Mole-Tree Music.
Jazz from the Brooklyn scene.
Other Things You Should Know:
I reviewed Deric Dickens debut album Speed Date, which includes a contribution by Kirk Knuffke. You can read it, here, by following this LINK.
Also, Dickens contributed a photo to my Work Space Tumblr page, HERE.
Follow this LINK to a nice podcast about Alan Lomax on the NPR site. And follow this LINK to the Lomax collection on the Library of Congress website.