Life in the Missouri's Ozarks can be quite lonely. (Trust me, I've been there.) Wooded hills and occasional lakes and streams dot a sparsely inhabited terrain devoid of any dramatic geology or biology. Dwight Frizzell takes that isolation as both a starting point and an ending point for his new record, Bulldog Devildog President. He arranges this disc around five different versions of a Black Hawk Waltz piano recording made by President Harry S Truman. For those not in the know, Truman was all set to be a professional jazz pianist before he gave up music for politics. (We should all be glad for that. Truman was a poor to mediocre player, with a granite sense of rhythm and a similarly rigid approach to melody.) Perhaps that's the reason Frizzell went crazy with it, overdubbing, distorting, and whistling along. Truman lived in Independence, Missouri, and for a time Frizzell was his neighbor... thus the unlikely connection here, more based on shared geography than shared musical vision.
The other half of Bulldog Devildog President makes significant strides beyond simple irony and parody. Frizzell harnesses a truly amazing array of musicians (and a frighteningly vast collection of instruments and found sounds; see personnel listing below) to create landscapes of sound, not far in their aesthetics from the Ozarks themselves. "Appalling Heart" combines sparse, legato soprano lyrics with groaning and wheezing noises, proceeding at a measured pace until it finally exhausts its dark, solemn mood.
The two improvised "Anamnesis" pieces dwell in a textured zone of reeds, bells, and unidentified home-made instruments, offering a similarly dark and lonely feel. The very quiet "Scrat" includes flowing water, bird-like noises, and Frizzell's gustatory contributions chewing an apple and swallowing water. These group improvisations convey a sense of mystery, isolation, and shadow. The stomping jazz denouement at the conclusion of the last track is both a statement of vicious irony and a victorious return to conventional forms... more emphasis on the former concept, to be sure.
Bullfrog Devildog President offers historical appeal for those interested in Truman's (rightly) underdocumented piano playing. It also experiments boldly at the intersection between natural sounds, found sounds, samples, and instruments in live performance. Often incredibly abstruse, this disc is quite a challenge to penetrate. To these ears, it seems like more of an experiment in progress than a clear vision brought to fruition.
Track Listing: Black Hawk Waltz 1; The Irish Wilderness; Black Hawk Waltz 2; Appalling Heart; Black Hawk Waltz 3; Anamnesis 1; Black Hawk Waltz 4; Anamnesis 2; Black Hawk Waltz 5; Scrat; Devildog.
Personnel: Dwight Frizzell: whistles, digital processors and 6-channel sound, body-dubbed heartbeat and galvanic skin
response, reeds, varmint calls, zwoom, contra-alto clarinet, masticating and swallowing sounds, baritone
and alto saxophones; P. Alonzo Conway: bassoon, percussion, radio; Thomas Aber: bagpipes, bass and
contra-alto clarinets; Patricia Johnson: soprano; Tony Allard: body vocalizations; Jim Cottingham: Chapman
stick, electric guitar; Clive Graham: original electro-acoustic instruments; Knut Aufermann: sampler; Adam
Bowman: multifarious amplified objects; Jonathan Bowman: amplified/acoustic objects and prepared tapes;
Cliff Caruthers: flutes, bottlecaps; Stephen Elisa: cello; Lyra Pherigo: flute, dog whistle; Jan Faidley: alto
saxophone; Ingrid Stolzel: audio oscillators; Dr. Marc Deckard: Tesla coil; Mark Lowry: percussion; Pat
Ireland: electric violins; Eric George: electric basses; Arnold Young: drums.
I love jazz because it is both challenging and exhilarating, and the endeavor of improvisation is the highest form of art.
I met so many great musicians--including my two earliest heroes, Maynard Ferguson and Dizzy Gillespie--by attending concerts
and being willing to treat them with the respect they deserve.
The best show I ever attended was the Pat Metheny/Ornette Coleman Song X concert at Cornell University.
The first jazz record I bought was an RCA compilation by Dizzy Gillespie.
My advice to new listeners is to not be afraid to listen to something because you're not familiar with the artists or the band or
the genre or anything - this is music that is best experienced through discovery.