Multi-instrumentalist Edward Ratliff's self-professed influences include kung fu movies, 18th century Bohemian wind music, jazz, the Golden Age of Hollywood, tangos, boleros, Vietnamese pop songs and free improvisationa short list. A litany like that might make you tag him as something of a clever crackpot; but a talented crackpot, if you've encountered his previous disc, Wong-Fei Hong Meets Little Strudel. At least that was my take on him, on that specific outing, after listening to a set that attempted to meld wildly disparate musical styles and ended up sounding to me, at the time, like a combination of Frank Zappa, at his whimsical best, mixed up with a relaxed Tom Waits backing band, playing around with kung fu sounds.
A few spins of Ratliff's latest, Barcelona in 48 Hours, puts me in Mark Twain's shoes in his observation concerning his father's acquisition of wisdom between the writer's 14th and 21st birthdays, a marveling of how much the old man had learned in seven years; I'm rather amazed here at how much Edward Ratliff has learned in just a few years. That "crackpot" tag just got jettisoned.
Barcelona in 48 Hours, the soundtrack for the short film by Anja Hitzenberger, has a straight-through cohesion that Wong-Fei Hong Meets Little Strudel lacked. The leader plays cornet, trombone, accordion, celeste and Fender Rhodes, joined by saxophones, bass clarinet, violin, dumbek (percussion), drums and programming.
The disparate styles here are brought together seamlessly, marrying Ratliff's everything-that-blows-his-way influences with a surprisingly focused vision. "Barcelona" gets four versions, each with a different instrumentation, revealing separate facets of the tune. "Estacio De Franca" features Ratliff on accordion dueting with Seido Salifoski on dumbek in an old eastern European meets the sub-continent dance; while "Barcelona (band version)," "Horsey" and "Sintuba" feature a fuller band approach, bringing freewheeling klezmer moods to mind.
Two tunes, "BCN" and "Mies," showcase Chris Kelly on programming, a compelling mix of electronic scratchings that tighten the mood and counterpoint nicely behind Ratliff's organic cornet musings. I'd have liked to have heard more of this.
Barcelona in 48 Hours blends an array of styles and moods with a strong underlying thread that keeps the listening experience exceptionally enthralling. I'm going to have to go back and reassess Wong-Fei Hong Meets Little Strudel now.
Track Listing: Barcelona (band version), BCN, Glass, Barcelona (duo), Horsey, Mies, Barcelona (dreaming) Estacio De Franca, Night Dance, Barcelona (solo), Sintuba
Personnel: Michael Attilias--alto and baritone saxophone; Sam Bardfeld--violin; John Hebert--bass; Edward Ratliff--cornet, trombone, accordion, celeste, Fender Rhodes; Andy Biskin--bass clarinet; Charlie Giordano--accordion; Chris Kelly--programming, guitar, drums; Seido Salifoski--dumbek; Doug Wieselman--guitar