Skirl Records: The Clarinets, The New Mellow Edwards, My Ears Are Bent
Chris Speed, Oscar Noriega, Anthony Burr
The explosion in the past few years of musician-run labels makes it look like the early '70s again. With the means of production taken over by the workers, jazz musicians no longer need feel disenfranchised. But crucial to the success of those imprints not run by major name players is a unifying concept. Chris Speed, whose label Skirl launched itself with a variety show evening at Tonic last month, has created a new home for one of the many circles to be found in the New York City jazz scene.
Skirl is much more than a prototypical vanity label. Though Speed figures into two of the three initial releases, there is no album yet under his name and his contributions are only part of a larger aesthetic rather than being the driving force behind it.
The opening triumvirate is a varied one, linked by a uniform design concept (abstract CD cases the size of DVD boxes) and is the result of several years of organic musical growth at places like Park Slope's Barbès. Skirl 001 is The Clarinets, a cooperative trio consisting of Speed's clarinet and the bass clarinets of Oscar Noriega and Anthony Burr.
The second release is Ted Reichman's My Ears Are Bent, a trio with guitarist Mary Halvorson, drummer John Hollenbeck and the leader on piano.
Speed and Hollenbeck are participants in the third issue, trombonist Curtis Hasselbring's leader debut The New Mellow Edwards, bassist Trevor Dunn rounding out the quartet.
The three groups performed at Tonic, as did two others with upcoming releases, TYFT and the Oscar Noriega Trio. Either by attending the performance - a live version of the once-popular sampler CD - or giving the CDs a close listen in order, the remarkable breadth available in this small segment of NYC players becomes apparent. Whereas The Clarinets is a moody soundscape, evocative of dark forests and late fall breezes, Reichman's disc is cinematic in scope, the almost maddening repetition creating its own momentum or false tension. Contrast this with the manic circus bop or surf jazz of Hasselbring's CD.
The New Mellow Edwards is the best of the three releases, buoyed perhaps by the almost irreverent structures and lack of static forms and tempos. The Clarinets, a signpost for the emergence of the bass clarinet as today's most compelling instrument, is more subtle, working like light slowly moving across a landscape or a puddle expanding in a light drizzle. My Ears Are Bent is in many ways the most difficult listen, the overlapping range of piano and guitar making themes difficult to discern and Hollenbeck's drumming limited to vexing rhythmic stagnation. In concert, these notions were reinforced, demonstrating that the social construct of Skirl Records allows the label to be as closely connected to the music it releases as the musicians who create it.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Constellating; Languor; Accord; Televiewers; Scrawl; Mockingbird; Negatives; Lovescar
Personnel: Oscar Noriega, Anthony Burr: bass clarinet; Chris Speed: clarinet.
My Ears Are Bent
Tracks: Every Man to his Own Taste; Peace Father; I Know Nothing About It; Nun; It Is Almost Sacred; Come to Jesus; My Ears are Bent
Personnel: Ted Reichman: piano, guitar, electronics; organ; percussion; Mary Halvorson: guitar; John Hollenbeck: drums
The New Mellow Edwards
Tracks: White Sauce Hot Sauce Boss?; The Infinite Infiniteness of Infinity; ABCs of the Future; Plubis Epilogue; Double Negative; (I'm the annoying guy who always yells) Freebird; Insaniterrier (the Radio Dog); Scatology; Ana; Far-Away Planet; Mamacita.
Personnel: Curtis Hasselbring: trombone, cracklebox, megamouth, casio; Chris Speed: tenor sax, clarinet, casio; Trevor Dunn: bass; John Hollenbeck: drums, melodica.