This long anticipated Rich West collection rewards the wait. A longtime Los Angeles new music mainstay, West goes with the locals, assembling his band of Bedouins from home-based talent. LA sound scientists and cultural engineers Jeremy Drake and Chris Heenan hold down electric guitar and reeds, respectively. Although familiar to local audiences playing amplified acoustic guitar as a synthesizer, Drake here surprises with deftly straightforward guitar as well as his signature sonic explorations. For Heenan, West and Scott Fraser’s production collects all the subtle sound and nuance he pours into his performances. Scott Ray returns from his highly praised Active Vapor Recovery project to essay the bass parts on e-flat tuba. West’s compositions include Nino Rota like strands of old carnival music and Ray’s tuba makes it real. Bruce Friedman provides sinewy yet lyrical improvisations with an inviting tone.
While you expect strong improvised outings from these musicians, West’s writing delivers unexpected treats. Opening with “Bugge,” the band rises out of lightly articulated noises, including minor mouthpiece manipulations from Heenan, to climb aboard Ray’s funk train. Heenan and Friedman duet a carousel theme, that morphs into Ray’s agile tuba sparring with Heenan’s alto. Drake plays chorded support, and adds to the dialogue. Next, Friedman introduces a lowdown tango suggested by Ray and Drake with West dancing through. Then he joins Ray and Drake in riffing for Friedman’s pungent exploration. “Tribology” busts out the gate with off kilter lurchings. Ray continues to keep everyone honest and Friedman goes through his paces followed by Drake’s Skunk Baxter lead that launches a satellite. Drake stays echoplexed for Heenan’s rough toned run.
A deep didjereedo-like drone and accompanying drones open “Twang.” Heenan and Friedman duet a short figure and the various long tones continue. After their third such interlude, the band works variations on that figure, Drake tangling it like yarn. West has the whole ensemble steadily out of step creating the illusion of looseness. He steers the piece to the fun zone, and the happily oblige.
Small sounds and Heenan pops start “Tychai 1 and 2.” Brief carnivaliyana detours the group improvisation. Heenan on bass clarinet joins with Ray to create the elephant stomp of “Curly.” Friedman takes a bright ride over the bass heavy riff, West rolling the cage with Drake’s funk rhythm guitar. Ray takes the tuba to the basement for “Furcifer.” West honks bozo horns and Drake brings space signals. Friedman plays a counterpoint theme with Ray, Heenan sometimes doubles the line on bass clarinet, and sometimes changes it.
Smart writing from an original voice, and the depth of the players make this a set that should find a long life on the laser player.
Track Listing: Bugge; Tribology; Twang; Tread; Friends of the Vacuum; Tychai 1 & 2; Curly; Furcifer.
Personnel: Chris Heenan, bass clarinet, alto sax; Bruce Friedman, trumpet; Jeremy Drake, electric guitar; Scott Ray, E-flat tuba; Rich West, drums.