Spooky Actions: Early Music (2005)
Bruce Arnold and John Gunther return with their Spooky Actions project, an inventive improvisational interpretation of musics not often tackled by jazz-based units. Having already rearranged the thorny intricacies of Webern and the soaring power of Native American melodies, here they address the haunting subtleties of early music, including variations on themes by Monteverdi, Dufay, and Von Bingen, as well as Gregorian chant. The quartet achieves a skillful balance in creating modern arrangements that retain connections to the deep reverence of the originals.
With Gunther on flute and Mike Richmond on cello doubling the theme, Von Bingen's "De Virginibus O Nobilissima Viriditas" yields its gentle beauty nestled in the atmospheric processed guitar of Arnold. Kirk Driscoll's spare, steady percussion keeps the ethereal piece grounded. Arnold weaves clear-toned innovations on Dufay's "Vergine Bella." With Gunther on sensual soprano, Driscoll and Richmond create a breezy tension.
The brief take on Monteverdi's "Canzonet 1,2, & 3" has the light sophistication of a Ben Allison track, while "Gregorian Chant" gets a surprisingly vigorous reading. Likewise, "Introit, Gaudeamus Omnes" becomes a gentle whirlpool as the contrapuntal round unfolds. Based on music written in the second century BC, "Epitaph of Seikilos" appropriately emerges from a mist of Frippian guitar effects. Gunther's tenor doubles Richmond's bowed bass through the reflective theme, before sending smokey tones entwining electronic swells.
Driscoll and Richmond tap the joy of "Alleluya," with Gunther celebrating on flute. Arnold takes a wiry solo before supporting Gunther's extended flight. Arnold again electronically orchestrates on "Ode from the Kanon for Easter Sunday," setting the stage of Gunther's bass clarinet, and then bringing a springy altered guitar sound to the composition.
Spooky Actions manage to shine a modern light on ancient sacred music without bleaching the dark mysteries inherent in the initial design.
Track Listing: De Virginibus O Nobilissima; Vergine Bella; Canzonet 1, 2, & 3; Gregorian Chant, Introit; Epitaph of Seikilos; Alleluya; Ode from the Kanon for Easter.
Personnel: Bruce Arnold: guitar; John Gunther: flute, soprano, tenor sax, bass clarinet; Kirk Driscoll: drums; Mike Richmond: bass, cello.