A sextet based out of Seattle, Washington, Reptet present a sound and message that, in its own words, aptly describes both the group's approach and its broader mission "to compose, interpret and improvise music that inspires growth through freedom and discipline." Working within a good-natured, party band atmosphere, the unit manages to stretch its genre's typical trappings on Chicken or Beef?, with both a broad array of stylistic capabilities as well as an adventurous, fun-loving attitude too often lacking in this setting.
The album opens with the funky "Danger Notes." Starting off in New Orleans party band mode, percussionist John Ewing and bassist Tim Carey guide a path that ebbs from the scorching solo of saxophonist Chris Credit to the more contemplative, textural mood over which Samantha Boshnack's trumpet can shine.
Things get even less predictable on "Reptet Score!" With a flurry of horns and percussion, the piece uses a Latin-tinged theme, building until the whole unit yells "hey!" before slinking into a steady, understated groove that meets somewhere between the dance floor and the lounge. The piece breaks apart soon enough, with horn squalls and guffaws abounding, sounding not unlike Spike Jones and his City Slickers if they were to cover Sun Ra.
"Chicken or Beef?" starts off with one member proclaiming that he is from the future before a Roland Kirk like party favor kicks off a percussive groove intermixed with electronic washes. Tobi Stone guests on clarinet with a fine solo that maintains the taut quirkiness of the track. A chant of the title builds into something not far off from a funkier version of the Residents, chugging along with abandon before slipping into "That's Chicken or Beef," in which a ska-inflected rhythm is turned into a soloist's delight, this time with trombonist Nelson Bell leading the way.
The unit slows down for "Gwand Wabbit," whose broadly sweeping rhythm is further pinned down by the vocal washes of guest singers Maeg O'Donoghue-Williams, Sari Breznau, Kevin Hinshaw and Scott Adams. The respite is quickly interrupted though, as "Fish Market" presents a manic lyrical musing on, well, fish markets, with interlocking horn lines moving about over Izaak Mills' steady bass clarinet riff to create a Frank Zappa meets Dirty Dozen Brass Band atmosphere of wacky fun and highly skilled musicianship.
Ultimately, that's what Reptet seems all about. Chicken or Beef? is less the defining artistic statement of a creative collective than a document of a highly skilled and engaging group that is subtly stretching the bounds of its medium without sacrificing its favorite part of it all, the fun.
Track Listing: Danger Notes; Reptet Score!; eltiT; Eve of Thrieve; Chicken or Beef?;
That's Chicken or Beef; Gwand Wabbit; Fish Market; Swanni; Kill the
Air; Go Bears.
Personnel: John Ewing: drums, percussion, bull moose call, vocals; Samantha
Boshnack: trumpet, flugelhorn, slide trumpet, vocals; Chris Credit:
baritone, alto, and tenor saxes, vocals; Tim Carey: upright and
electric bass, baritone guitar, vocals; Nelson Bell: trombone, tuba,
euphonium, conch shell, vocals; Izaak Mills: tenor sax, bass
clarinet, flute, percussion, bull moose call, vocals; Lalo Bello:
percussion (1, 2, 5, 8); Mark Oi: guitar (6, 8); Tobi Stone: clarinet
(5, 6); Clinton Fearon: frog (1, 6), vocals (6); Eyvind Kang: viola
(1); Lori Goldston: cello (1); Paris Hurley: violin (1); Maeg
O'Donoghue-Williams: vocals (7); Sari Breznau: vocals (7); Kevin
Hinshaw: vocals (7); Scott Adams: vocals (7); Satchmo: vocals (11);
Jack: vocals (11).