Garrison Fewell: Variable Density Sound Orchestra (2008)
For the descriptively-titled Variable Density Sound Orchestra, guitarist Garrison Fewell has assembled a group whose members expertly develop the thematic content central to the pieces on the album. All but one are composed by Fewell, the disc closing with Butch Morris' "Namthini's Shadow." Trumpeter Roy Campbell, Jr. plays with Fewell for the first time here, the rest of the ensemble consisting of second guitarist Eric Hofbauer, reedist Achille Succi, bassist John Voigt, drummer Mike Matsuki and percussionist Alex Fewell, who spices up the music with whistles, seed pods and bells.
Throughout the recording, the horns dominate: synchronous fanfares in "Spectronomous," "Ayleristic" and "Venus"; the trumpet's melodious nostalgic journeys in "Olorun Song," "Red Pyramid" and "Venus"; the bass clarinet's characteristic sputtering in "Fragment Alignment" or deep tonal layering in "Descent from Orbit" and the alto's mellifluous essay in "Red Pyramid" and ultra-expressive overlay in the outstanding centerpiece "Venus."
Even when the musical lines tend to go in multiple contrapuntal directions, the group behaves as one coherent unit, highlighting certain instruments. Unexpectedly, the two guitars do not take center stage. They assume a role that ornaments a main line, extending the strengths of the lead instruments, most notably with the alto in "Venus"; in the latter tune, both guitars float over a stirring rhythmic backdrop. In "Olorun Song" and "Ayleristic," bass and guitar create a solid duo interweaving. The bass establishes not only the inescapable pulse in "Namthini's Shadow," but also becomes, with the elegantly disposed drumming, the piece's mainstay.
Track Listing: Spectronomous; Olorun Song; Ayleristic; Fragment Alignment; The Red Pyramid; Venus; Descent From Orbit; Avant Aria; Calculations at Yaxchilàn; Namthini's Shadow.
Personnel: Garrison Fewell: guitar, prepared and bowed guitar, slide, percussion; Eric Hofbauer: guitar, prepared guitar, frame drum, percussion; Roy Campbell, Jr.: trumpet, flugelhorn, flute, percussion; Achille Succi: bass clarinet, alto saxophone; John Voigt: bass; Miki Matsuki: drums; Alex Fewell: percussion (6, 9).