Brooklyn shows some similarities with the fertile Chicago scene in the growing numbers of young bands with overlapping personnel about town. Cases in point are these two discs featuring guitarist Chris Welcome in tandem with upcoming bassist Shayna Dulberger and drummer John McLellan.
Refrain is the second outing for Welcome's quartet featuring saxophonist Jonathan Moritz alongside the aforementioned rhythm section. A strong group aesthetic is at play here with restrained blowing and almost minimalist thematic material. Everyone sublimates their egos to the group sound. Even the improvisations following the leader's understated heads are muted and lower case. Silence is as important as notes and much of the music suggests painterly analogies, whereby broad expanses of white canvas are broken with sparse but carefully placed daubs of pastel colors. Although there is a lot of space there are few solos, apart from McLellan's tuned drums on "#19" and Dulberger's inventive pizzicato bass on "#20+21." Moritz parlays in languid tenor and piping soprano, with ventures into controlled growling harmonics to vary the textures. It is not until "#28" that a more emphatic vibe asserts itself with a tenor litany of breathy squawks over what could pass for walking bass and time from the drums to close out the 47-minute program.
Unsurprisingly given the shared personnel, some of the same spare aesthetic leaches into the Push Pull Quartet. However, recorded two years earlier under the leadership of saxophonist, composer and sometime guitarist Ben Miller, At The Stroke of Twelve leavens the frugality with a stronger rhythmic push and more solo space in Miller's semi-structured improvisations. Though Miller has strong punk roots, there is little of the out-and-out energy music that might suggest as the main punk influence appears to be the concentrated brevity of the nine tracks on this 38-minute CDR. "Stutter Sputter" lives up to its name with Miller's repeated multiphonic saxophone barks and a spiky guitar solo from Welcome, in one of the few occasions when he isn't seeking to do more with less, sometimes much less, than most other guitarists. McLellan and Dulberger work well together achieving a loose out-of-tempo pulsing with aplomb, but can still funk it up as towards the close of "Green Tony." Strangely the disc ends on a spacey guitar and drums duet that encapsulates the overall feel of a work in progress.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: #19; #16; #17; #18; #22; #20+21; #24; #28.
Personnel: Chris Welcome: guitar, compositions; Jonathan Moritz: tenor sax, soprano sax; Shayna Dulberger: upright bass; John McLellan: drums.
At the Stroke of Twelve
Tracks: If And Or But; At The Stroke Of Twelve; Downstairs; Stutter Sputter; Out Of; Tag; Green Tony; Well; D-11.
Personnel: Ben Miller: alto & c melody sax; Chris Welcome: guitar; Shayna Dulberger: upright bass; John McLellan: drums.