How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Neo Neo is a collaborative project conceived by drummer Lou Grassi, with Tom Varner on French horn, Ron Horton on trumpet, and Tomas Ulrich on cello. The recording is extremely dry and acoustic in texture, with an unusually quiet recording level — all in keeping with the philosophy of Creative Improvised Music Projects, a label that insists on bringing us as realistic a reproduction of the live performances as possible. The overall feel of this quartet is not at all unlike that of a classical chamber ensemble, albeit an especially modern and adventurous one. Varner’s French horn and Ulrich’s cello take the session far afield of typical jazz instrumentation, contrasting vividly with Horton’s sharp-toned trumpet and Grassi’s free-jazz drumming.
The music is often busy and intense, but there is plenty of variety to keep the listener guessing. Three of the pieces are from Horton’s 1999 Omnitone release Genius Envy. Varner contributes six of the fifteen compositions, including the marvelously spare "Space Ballad" and the ambitious "Meditation Sketch." The three-part suite "Lopey" begins with a playful duet between Horton and Varner, then adds Ulrich for the second movement before culminating in a full-ensemble finale that almost evokes an off-kilter New Orleans band. Ulrich’s "Louless" is another trio piece; Grassi’s absence creates space for new and unexpected textures to emerge.
These performances, together with producer Robert Rusch’s lively and detailed session notes and CIMP’s scrupulous recording standards, make Neo Neo a pleasure, as well as a worthy entry in the discographies of each of the four players involved.
1. Carla Blake 2. Hemoglobin 3. For Thomas Chapin 4. Genius Envy 5. Neo Neo 6. Mini for Tomas 7. Spit It Out 8. Northern Lights 9. Space Ballad 10. Meditation Sketch 11. Louless 12. Lopey Pt. 1 13. Lopey Pt. 2 14. Lopey Pt. 3 15. Unbearable Being of Lightness
Personnel: Lou Grassi, drums; Tom Varner, French horn; Ron Horton, trumpet; Tomas Ulrich, cello