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Drummer Jerry Granelli has always been a conceptual jazz musician. After early associations with Denny Zeitlin, Vince Guaraldi, and Ralph Towner his solo projects took on novel qualities, both for their storytelling and unique aspects. The 1992 recording A Song I Thought I Heard Buddy Sing utilized Michael Ondaatje's Coming Through Slaughter, a fictionalized biography of Buddy Bolden, the very real New Orleans jazz trumpeter was the basis for a tour of the first 100 years of jazz. Subsequent projects like UFB with its two-guitar lead have honored Native Americans, and work with Julian Priester and Ira Jane Bloom paint music often outside the jazz palate.
His most recent project, Badlands, finds Granelli working with a mostly a New York Downtown lineup. Crowd Theory, recorded at the Knitting Factory, is a follow up to the 1998 Enter, A Dragon. Either the Downtowners have finally caught up to Granelli's music views or he to their's. Badlands reminds one of the various working groups of Tim Berne and Wayne Horvitz. Granelli pulls Chris Speed from Bloodcount and Briggan Krause from Pig Pen. Like Messrs. Horvitz and Berne, Granelli's Badlands features group improvisation, as opposed to a solo followed by a solo. His compositions are fully formed for the septet. Horns dominate the title piece stating a pastoral theme through an interwoven line. He works through "Tango" accenting the whimsy with a darker percussive beat. Badlands handles a typical downtown funk in "Yutz" and an ambient soundscape in "Cloud." Keeping tabs on the players is often difficult. Speed's darting tenor lines contrast with Kraus' paint peeler of a horn. Maybe Curtis Hasselbring's trombone along with Granelli's drumkit is the unifying force behind this outfit. Covering Wayne Horvitz's "The Front," a song familiar to Knitting Factory fans, brings this project into the clearest light. Granelli as a musical arranger excels in placing the right musician in just the right spot, for the right song, a truly Ellingtonian characteristic.
Track Listing: Crowd Theory; Mr. Hulot; Bucky; Tango; Scatologie; Yutz; The Front; Cloud.
Personnel: Chris Speed: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Peter Epstein: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone; Briggan Krause: baritone saxophone, alto saxophone; Curtis Hasselbring: trombone, guitar; Jamie Saft : piano, organ, slide guitar; J. Anthony Granelli: electric bass, piccolo bass; Jerry Granelli: electroacoustic percussion.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.