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Peter Madsen's Storytellers: Curiouser and Curiouser

Jerome Wilson By

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In 2018 Peter Madsen released Never Bet the Devil Your Head (Playscape), a fine CD by his jazz-classical hybrid group, the Seven Seas Ensemble, that was dedicated to the writing of Edgar Allan Poe. Now he brings the jazz half of the Ensemble together for another set of music based on classic literature, this time, Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.

Given the subject, this music has an understandably brighter mood than the Poe project. The "Alice" theme itself is ebullient and sunny, dominated by Madsen's cascading piano and Herbert Walser's lyrical trumpet which he often plays with a soft, burry sound that resembles Chuck Mangione.

The themes for the various denizens of Wonderland themselves often start with some kind of quirky introduction before turning into solid quartet jazz. "Cheshire Cat" begins with a running kalimba rhythm that leads into a stabbing, off-center dance by trumpet and piano. Apropos of its subject it also has different instruments disappearing and reappearing in the mix from time to time. On "Caterpillar" and "Dodo" Walser creates complex webs of processed trumpet sounds that turn into more conventional but attractive lines, a languid ballad on "Caterpillar" and a rolling mid-tempo groove on "Dodo" led by Walser's soulful blasting and Madsen's rippling solo. "Queen Of Hearts" begins with barnyard noises and guttural cries of "Off with her head!," then turns into a cranky, percussive theme which features a solo by Madsen heavy on McCoy Tyner-like block chords.

"Mock Turtle"'s dreamlike introduction of tinkling piano and rattling percussion folds into a delicate melody where muted trumpet sails over romantic piano and bassist Herwig Hammerl gets a rare solo turn. "Mad Hatter" is a stumbling Thelonious Monk-ish blues line that rises out of Martin Grabher's springy drum clatter while "Duchess" is a Middle Eastern blend of delicate piano notes and swaying trumpet melody. "Gryphon" is an attractive waltz where Walser's gliding trumpet leads into a thicker horn sound spreading over a rocking samba beat. "White Rabbit" has Madsen rippling out long runs with a touch of funk over a tautly bouncing Latin-influenced rhythm. "March Hare" is another sunny and straightforward tune like "Alice" and "Wonderland" is a subdued, formal melody that features Walser and Madsen playing intricate figures with bluesy sentimentality, bringing a warm close to the set.

This music is attractive and endearing, reflecting the childlike aspects of Carroll's stories. The contrast between Walser's plush trumpet sounds and Madsen's harder-edged piano is effective and the often-quirky introductions add a nice touch of humor to the proceedings. Alice In Wonderland is no stranger to musical adaptations but this treatment is particularly intimate, warm and fun.

Track Listing: Alice; Cheshire Cat; White Rabbit; Caterpillar; Queen of Hearts; Mad Hatter; Duchess; Gryphon; Mock Turtle; Dodo; March Hare; Wonderland.

Personnel: Peter Madsen: piano; Herbert Walser: trumpet, horn and electronics; Herwig Hammerl: bass; Martin Grabher: drums and percussion.

Title: Curiouser and Curiouser | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Playscape Recordings

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