By Ken Waxman
Sort of a modern day Thomas Alva Edison, Los Angeles-based guitarist Johnnie Valentino takes a practical approach to the somewhat esoteric concept of sound design. True to the functional philosophy of the Wizard of Melo Park, Valentino mostly uses manipulated sounds in his day job, scoring and providing sonic textures for animated TV shows and feature films.
8 Shorts is another matter, however. It's a high art application of his collection of found sounds far removed from the tone designs he provides for sci-fi and children's products such as Alvin & The Chipmunks or Wonder Boys. It proves that a musician with ingenuity can compartmentalize his creations, using some for art and others for commerce.
An Easterner like Edison, Valentino has been operating like this for years. In Los Angeles since '84, he's recorded with top improvisers like trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and multi-reedist Vinny Golia, the latter of whom is featured on three tracks here.
Essentially, 8 Shorts is made up of the musicians playing live in the studio using Valentino-created abstract sound beds as springboards for improvisations. As can be expected from the title and his background, the results are cinematic, but mostly in an experimental un-Hollywood fashion, all the way down to titles. Especially memorable is "Unveiled," a duet for Golia's flute and Valentino's guitar, seemingly suspended birdlike over raunchy thunderclouds and bubbling forest streams. In between fripple manipulations and offbeat chording, the soundscape brings up growls, yelps, and other potential wild animal tones and a coda of dripping water.
Other players include such certified New York downtowners as cellist Erik Friedlander, trumpeter Russ Johnson, and pianist and percussionist Mick Rossi. Rossi's dual skills are put to good use in pieces like "Vessel," where wheezing background textures, sometimes extended with muezzin-like cries and what could be rooster crows feature non-specific pitchsliding brass tones. Moving between keyboard timbres and stopped internal piano action, the pianist gives Valentino additional accents on which he can prop his metallic fingerpicking and scattered amp loops, scattering and shattering fluttering found sounds. Friedlander's contributions encompass legit glissandi and song-like spiccato episodes. The soul of modesty, Mike Sarin mostly confines himself to scattered cracks and knocks and off-centre rambling beats, while Golia's buzzing bass clarinet provides alternating swelling and wavering backdrops for low-key pianisms mixed with discursive side band tones.
Perhaps these shorts won't find David Lynch. Perhaps they shouldn't. Most of the way through this CD, however, the guitarist has produced intelligent, practical sound designs with that can be appreciated as is, without visuals.
Track Listing: Ambiguity; Exploration; Under Current; Components; Vessel; Verge; Unveiled; Concrete
Personnel: Russ Johnson: trumpet; Randy Jones: tuba; Vinny Golia: bass clarinet, flute; Johnnie
Valentine: guitar; Mick Rossi: piano, percussion; Erik Friedlander: cello; Mike Sarin: drums.