There are times when star ratings don't tell or can't tell the whole story. Five stars, four, three, two, billions upon billions of stars. Veteran pianist Peter Madsen's Curiouser and Curiouser is just one of those times. It's a great listen but is it an essential one? Without being too harsh, no. Is it a disc with plenty of repeat listenings in it? For many yes, for others, probably not. Sorry, but the star system isn't going to work for this one.
Madsen's tenth disc for Playscape returns Madsen to quartet glory after his minimalist adventures with percussionist Alfred Vogel and the larger ensemble excursions that sparked and sparkled on Never Bet the Devil Your Head (Playscape Recordings, 2018). On Curiouser and Curiouser Madsen and his nimble Storytellers, (gathered from among Madsen's Collective of Improvising Artists)Herbert Walser trumpet, horn and electronics, Martin Grabher drums and percussion, Herwig Hammerl double bassinterpret Lewis Carroll's hoary old story Alice in Wonderland in a delightfully tasty, keenly original way. The lush neo-pop of "Alice" charges trumpeter Walser to ignite the magic, opening a rabbit hole that veers along on the post bop of "Cheshire Cat," the wicked turns of phrase of "White Rabbit," the dreamy dance of "Caterpillar" to the whacked out bouncing vocal interplay exclaiming "Off with their heads!" on the quirky "Queen of Hearts."
"Mad Hatter" is a complicated romp, part group improv, part gumbo blow out, with Walser again growling and blaring like a full horn outfit. "Gryphon" and the set closing "Wonderland" are peak Madsen, his lucid imagination, Bill Evans-like sense of lyricism and perfectly tuned maverick wit bringing indelible melody and play to the fore. Yet another star in Madsen's constellation.
Alice; Cheshire Cat; White Rabbit; Caterpillar; Queen of Hearts; Mad Hatter; Duchess; Gryphon; Mock Turtle; Dodo; March
Peter Madsen: piano; Herbert Walser: trumpet, horn and electronics; Herwig Hammerl: bass; Martin Grabher: drums and