Combining a supremely agile multi-reed quartet with a lithe rhythm section, Dead Cat Bounce is anything but moribund on its Cuneiform debut, Chance Episodes
. The title is a bit of a misnomer as well, as the highly developed compositionsall written and arranged by saxophonist/woodwind multi-instrumentalist Matt Steckler
leave little to chance. Originally commissioned by Chamber Music America in 2003 and subsequently refined and expanded for this recording, Steckler's pieces tend to proceed episodically as a string of seemingly unrelated movements or chapterseach with a different tempo, tonality, and overall feel.
This is how the "chance" aspect of Steckler's compositions manifests itself, and the overall effect can be rather surreal, despite the overall cheery, hyperactive, and extroverted nature of the music. Within its first 70 seconds, "Food Blogger" moves through a dizzying array of melodies and rhythms before settling into a seriously funky groove for expressive solos by saxophonists Terry Goss (alto) and Charlie Kohlhase
(baritone). "Salon Sound Journal" never really seems to settle into one motif for very long at all, moving from a sort of intricate minimalism to a Latin-ish 6/8, a highly syncopated 9/8 groove, and then into a funky M-BASE-like 9/8, all leading to a delicate ballad-like passage dominated by flutes and arco bass, before returning to the 9/8 funk feel for Kohlhase's scorching alto solo.
Not content to jump around all the time, other pieces are more conventionally constructed. But even these have their share of surprises. "Watkins Glen" and "Bio Dyno Man" both have a palpable "crime-jazz" feel, sounding a bit like the soundtrack to a great, lost film noir. The somber opening theme of "Silent Movie, Russia 1995" gives way to a section that has a New Orleans second-line feel and a fine clarinet solo by Jared Sims. The only soloist on the big, blowsy-sounding "Far From The Matty Crowd" is drummer Bill Carbone
, who also executes some very tricky tutti passages along with the saxophones. After an extended dialogue between Carbone and bassist Dave Ambrosio
, "Township Jive Revisited" lives up to its title, and wouldn't sound out of place on a Chris McGregor
LP. Drums and bass lay out on "Madame Bonsilene," which traverses some of the sonic territories previously investigated by the ROVA Saxophone Quartet.
Inevitably, Dead Cat Bounce will be compared to other sax-heavy groups such as ROVA or the World Saxophone Quartet
. While such comparisons aren't too far off the mark, Dead Cat Bounce delves into a lot of musical areas that neither of those great bands bother with, and vice versa. With their off-the-wall compositional sensibilities, sly humor, and obvious comfort with odd time signatures, and rock- and funk-oriented rhythms, Dead Cat Bounce compares quite favorably with sax-heavy groups such as label-mates The Microscopic Septet
and the late-'80s British band Itchy Fingers
. Chance Episodes
is one of the year's most auspicious debut CDs, full of musical surprises and unexpected twists and turns.