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Todd Sickafoose: Bear Proof

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Todd Sickafoose: Bear Proof
Bassist Todd Sickafoose released only one album as a leader prior to this one, Tiny Resistors, (Cryptogramophone, 2008). However, he has kept busy in the music world since then. He has extensively worked as a sideman and producer, including collaborating with singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco, and he has orchestrated the Broadway musical, "Hadestown," winning a Tony award in the process. Now he is back with an album that reaffirms him as one of those musicians who are ostensibly based in jazz but whose sensibilities lead them to create genreless music that touches on folk, rock, classical, and other sounds as well as jazz. That puts him in the company of other explorers such as Bill Frisell, Jenny Scheinman, Brian Blade, Ben Allison, Nels Cline, Kirk Knuffke, and Allison Miller, some of whom appear on this album. It is no surprise then that this music, a nine-part suite for eight musicians played through without a break with spots for improvisation built in, does not sound like conventional jazz. It contains a wide range of influences and gives all the players a chance to shine.

On the CD sleeve, Sickafoose calls the album "a surreal meditation on Boom and Bust," which explains the music's shift in mood, from energetic and charged in the first half to thoughtful and contemplative in the second. Among the early tracks, highlights include "Flush"'s comical pop-klezmer melody that leads to Ben Goldberg's clarinet and Jenny Scheinman's violin dancing above a loping rock rhythm and Kirk Knuffke's squawking cornet mixed with a seamless blend of guitar, piano, and accordion on "Switched On," The darker tones of the album's second half feature the rippling, foggy mood of "Turns Luck" led by Goldberg, Knuffke, and guitarist Adam Levy, an Aaron Copland-like view of Old West landscapes on "Prospects" and the bluesy cowboy lope of "Magnetic North" carried by the dreamy sway of Levy, Sickafoose, and drummer Alison Miller. "Boom Bust Startup Ruin" is a microcosm of the album's theme, with grimly hard-charging rhythm underlining solos that have overtones of apprehension, fear, and hysteria. The rhythm work here weaves in bits of minimalist repetition and even a rock and roll shuffle as the lead instruments clash with creeping dread.

There are lovely solo passages throughout by all the players, but the real beauty of the music is the way Sickafoose arranges the instruments into a rich melodic tapestry out of which soloists emerge briefly and recede. This quietly intense work is the kind of music that reveals its power the more one listens to it. It takes the listener on a journey from optimism to dashed dreams over 62 minutes in an engrossing and entertaining fashion.

Track Listing

The Gold Gate; Bent Into Shape; Switched On; Flush; Magnetic North; Boom Bust Startup Ruin; Turns Luck; Prospects; Reverse Fortune.

Personnel

Album information

Title: Bear Proof | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Secret Hatch Records


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