Cosa Brava: Ragged Atlas (2010)
There's a lot to a title as far as Ragged Atlas is concerned. The members of Cosa Brava have long been skilled in avoiding the obvious and their music incorporates influences from disparate sources. The range of their musical activities and affiliations in the past result in a coherence that is notable. When allied to the self-evident depth of intelligence at work here it amounts to something special.
There's impishness about the music, a sense of fun that maybe stems from the joy of discovery. When the likes of that comes from such experienced hands it's a joy in itself. Nowhere is this more evident than on "Falling Upwards (for Amanda)" where an arguably banal lyric is incorporated within lithe, supple music raised to another level by Carla Kihlstedt's violin.
The elegiac "Lucky Thirteen" is shot through with a sense of unease so refined that the very singularity of the music is refined in turn. Fred Frith turns in an economical but fraught guitar solo that not only meets the demands of the song but also acts as another voice, lifting the music to a level that no lyric with its fixed ideas could encompass.
Initially "Blimey, Einstein" has about it a lilt informed perhaps by Frith's past work in the company of Swedish band Samla Mammas Manna but the lyric is heavy with contradictory foreboding. The resulting tension proves fruitful, however, principally as a result of Kihlstedt's eloquent violin again.
On "Tall Story" it's the musicianship that makes all the difference. In lesser hands such a piece might come off as so much fluff but here there's a sense of tension and release that militates against that even while Zeena Parkins' accordion is to the fore. The instrument might be seen as unwieldy particularly in improvised music, but here lays evidence to refute the notion.
"For Tom Ze" is given a deft reading, and such are the dynamics that demonstrate just how subtle this unit can be. The resulting lightness is happily not without substance however, and the abiding impression is of a musical melting pot in the best sense, with everything brought to the table handled with sensitivity and admirable brio.
In closing things out, "Market Day" is more reflective, but not at the expense of mood. The lyric is pensive but not to the point of introspection, while it's at the margins of the music where the most offbeat elements lie. This band is adept at handling such things, and with a lack of calculation that's admirable.
Track Listing: Snake Eating Its Tail; Round Dance; Pour Albert; R.D. Burman; Falling Up (for Amanda); Out On The Town With Rusty, 1967; Lucky Thirteen; Blimey Einstein; The New World; Tall Story; For Tom Ze; A Song About Love; Market Day.
Personnel: Fred Frith: guitar, bass, voice; Carla Kihlstedt: violin, nycelharpa, bass harmonica, voice; Zeena Parkins: accordion, keyboards, foley objects, voice; Matthias Bossi: drums, percussion, sruti box, voice; The Norman Conquest: sound manipulation. Anantha Krishnan: mridingam, tabla (4).