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Barry Romberg: No Soap Radio

Paul Olson By

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Barry Romberg: No Soap Radio Toronto drummer/Romhog Records factotum Barry Romberg probably needs to go out and get some sun and fresh air. Fortunately for us, however, he can't be bothered; he's too busy toiling in the bowels of his Romhog Digital studio making recordings like No Soap Radio, the fourth in his Random Access series. The Random Access formula's simple enough. First Romberg improvises in the studio with mainstays like guitarist Geoff Young and violinist Hugh Marsh—no preconceived notions, no rules. Then it's time for hour after hour of subtraction—studio editing, shaping, trimming—and addition—multiple overdubs of additional players like saxophonist Kelly Jefferson and trumpeter Kevin Turcotte, as well as Romberg's trademark electronic Roland percussion and Young's guitar loops.

The result is an altogether unique set of pieces that are unified by Romberg's specific sensibility and his fascinating, otherworldly studio sound—a brittle, close ambience that sounds neither dryly realistic nor typically wetly overproduced. I'll call it psychedelic semi-free jazz.

Generally, the studio makes jazz records slicker—not here, though. The tunes on No Soap Radio are playful and accessible, but it's to Romberg's credit that they're also bracing, frequently forboding, and just plain weird. This isn't background music.

"3rd Rock From the Sun begins the album with Peter Lutek's keening, desolate sax blowing over a shimmering wash of guitar loops, electric keys, and electronic percussion. The song won't hold still, though: guitarist Young enters over a shifting, elusive groove only to give way to Marsh's treated violin roiling over Romberg's painterly drum fills, which turns into Lutek's melismatic howling over more swirling loops, and—well, you get the picture. In typical Romberg fashion, meter exists, then doesn't; times signatures shift, dissolve, resume. There's a centerlessness to the tune; despite the featured soloists, this is about as far from head-solo-solo-head jazz as anyone's going to get.

All the songs are dedicated to various notables (Hunter S. Thompson, Albert Einstein, John Coltrane) and "Her Majesties Secret Donut, dedicated to Miles Davis, does have a Bitches Brew density and tonal ambiguity. Trumpeter Turcotte's bracing stabs cut across the oozing, ambient wash of keyboards and guitar loops (Turcotte even seems to be overtly referring to Wayne Shorter's "Sanctuary here).

"Master of the Universe begins with a rubbery 7-against-4 groove with fantastic kitwork and popping percussion from the leader alongside Artie's Roth's muscular acoustic bass and a memorable boogie vamp from Young. This is as accessible as this album gets, but there's still a ghostly, claustrophobic feeling here. The tune then goes into more esoteric terrain with Kelly Jefferson's sax leading into Young's spidery lines over rich, probing bass, and then a melodic, almost ethnic Marsh violin solo—Romberg goosing the tempo, deconstructing the time, constructing a sonic background that simply won't hold still.

No Soap Radio is a gleefully dark recording that really only sounds like other Barry Romberg product. That said, it's the best Random Access album yet—wilder and braver than last year's Random Access Pt. 3.

Track Listing: 3rd Rock From the Sun; Master of the Universe; Additional Ornamentation; Her Majesties Secret Donut; Funky Monk; No Soap Radio; A Cry for NY; One Sock One Shoe.

Personnel: Barry Romberg: drums, electronic percussion, percussion, keyboards; Geoff Young: guitars (1,2,5-8), guitar loops (1,4); Hugh Marsh: violin (1,2,4,6-7), pizzicato baritone violin (3,8); Peter Lutek: tenor sax (1), brass pipes (4); Greg Dedenus: Fender Rhodes (1,4); Monica Fedrigo: cello (1,4); Artie Roth: acoustic bass (2,5,7); Kelly Jefferson: alto saxophone (2), tenor saxophone (3,6,8), soprano saxophone (6,8); Kevin Turcotte: trumpet (2,4,8); Adrian Farrugia: keys (5,7).

Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Romhog Records | Style: Beyond Jazz


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